Classes of United States Senators

The three classes of US Senators, each currently including 33 or 34 Senators (since Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, and until another state is admitted), are a means used by the United States Senate for describing the schedules of Senate seats' elections, and of the expiration of the terms of office of the Senators holding the respective seats. Each numbered Congress sits for two years, and each Senator normally serves a term of six years in office.

Senatorial classes do not identify who each state's Senior and Junior Senator is - that is determined by comparing the tenures of each state's current Senators, regardless of class.

Historical division

The U.S. Constitution specifies staggered 6-year terms for Senators, and there are special provisions for getting a new state into a situation that makes that pattern continue automatically:

  • around the time of the first federal elections, in 1788, each state appointed its two Senators for, respectively,
    • Class I: a two-year and a six-year term,
    • Class II: a four-year and a six-year term,
    • Class III: a two-year and a four-year term,
  • upon the expiration of a Senator's term of any length, someone starts a new six-year term as Senator (based on appointment in most states, until the Seventeenth Amendment required direct popular election of Senators);
  • when a new state is admitted to the Union, its two Senators have terms that correspond to those of two different classes, among the three classes defined below;
  • which two classes is determined by a scheme that keeps the three classes as close to the same size as possible, i.e., that avoids any class differing by more than one from the minimum-sized class.

This means at least one of any new state's first pair of Senators has a term of less than six years, and one term is either two or four years shorter than the other.

Should a 51st state be admitted to the Union, it would receive Senators in Classes I and II, and at that point all three Classes would have 34 Senators each time around.


Class I

Class I consists of

Class II

Class II consists of

Class III

Class III consists of

Current Senators in each class by party

  Class 1 Class 2 Class 3 Total
Last election: 2006 2002 2004 Republican 9 21 19 49 Democratic 22 12 15 49 Independent 2 0 0 2
Total: 33 33 34 100
Next election: 2012 2008 2010

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