What is a Senior Senator?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In the United States Senate, a Senior Senator is a Senator who has been serving longer than the other Senator from the same state. Because each state sends two Senators to the Senate, there are 50 Senior Senators at any given time, along with 50 Junior Senators. Although there is no technical difference between Senior and Junior Senators, by convention, Senior Senators have much more clout, and they tend to get more attention from the media.

The House and Senate convene in the U.S. Capital building.
The House and Senate convene in the U.S. Capital building.

If two Senators from the same state are elected at the same time, the Senator who was sworn in first is considered the Senior Senator. More commonly, one Senator retires while another remains in service, and the replacement for the retiring Senator becomes the Junior Senator. As a general rule, Senators from the same state work together, because they have similar interests and goals, and a Senior Senator may mentor the Junior counterpart, often grooming the Senator for the day when he or she will take over the Senior position.

Senior senators have the privilege of picking desks that are closer to the head of the chamber.
Senior senators have the privilege of picking desks that are closer to the head of the chamber.

Senior Senators do get a few special perks. They are allowed to pick Senate desks before their Junior counterparts, allowing them to sit closer to the head of the Senate Chamber, if they so desire. They are also given preference on committees, and they may be treated with more respect by other Senators. A Senior Senator tends to have more political power, especially if he or she has served several terms and comes from a large state.

Generally, Junior Senators don't have a major impact on policy, because they lack the power and the experience to get support for proposed legislation; instead, they use their Junior terms to build up experience and learn about how the Senate works. There are a few exceptions; Joesph McCarthy, for example, was a Junior Senator who ended up having a huge impact on the Senate, as was Lyndon B. Johnson, who later became President of the United States.

Although Senior Senators often have more experience than Junior Senators, by virtue of their longer terms in the Senate, this isn't always the case. A Junior Senator might have worked his or her way through a variety of political positions from the local to the national level which provided a great depth of experience in a variety of venues. Sometimes, a Junior Senator is also more in touch with the home constituency, since the Junior Senator may have served on a local level more recently than the Senior Senator.

Senior Senators may or may not have more experience than Junior Senators from the same state.
Senior Senators may or may not have more experience than Junior Senators from the same state.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Cupcake15-For some reason I thought the Democratic senate had more long standing members.

I though that Harry Reid was there longer. I know that his recent race got a lot of attention and most of the polls showed him trailing challenger Sharon Angle, but at the last minute he pulled off a defeat and got reelected.

Many feel that his strong union support is what brought him over the top. Some people however, are scratching their heads because Nevada has the highest unemployment in the country at a whopping 14% along with the highest levels of home foreclosures.

Many people do not understand how Harry Reid was able to pull this off. But I guess miracles can happen because these congressional elections demonstrated the highest shift to the Republicans since 1948 and most senate democrats and house members lost their seats.


Mutsy-I know some of the long serving Republican senators are the late Ted Stevens from Alaska, who served from 1968 until his tragic death last year in an airplane crash.

Also John Warner of Virginia served from 1978, and Richard Lugar from Indiana served from 1976. Pete Dominici of New Mexico served since 1972 and Mitch Mc Connell from Kentucky served from 1984 while John McCain of Arizona began his career in 1986. Other notables are Thad Cochran from Mississippi who served since 1978 and Larry Craig from Idaho who served since 1990.


Sunny27-I remember that passing. I also wanted to add that other long standing democratic senators are Carl Levin from Michigan who began his senatorial career in 1978 along with Patrick Leahy of Vermont in 1974, and Harry Reid of Nevada and John Kerry of Massachusetts in 1984.

If you go to the senator.gov site it will tell you who all of the sitting senators are and when they were first elected into office.

There are many senior senators that are Republicans also. For example, Senator Susan Collins from Maine has served the senate since 1996 and is often a compromising voice that reaches across the aisles. She lead a subcommittee on investigations.


There are many Democrat senators that have long histories of serving in the senate. The late Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia was a senator from 1952 to 2006.

On the same note, the late Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts was a senator from 1962 until his death in 2006. He was often referred to as the “Lion of the Senate” because of his staunch positions on causes relating to education.

In fact President George W. Bush and Senator Kennedy created the “No child left behind” bill which was a landmark legislation that offers free prekindergarten education to four year olds in order for these kids to get a head start in their education.

It also brought about standards across the country that leads to standardize testing in which the results were linked to funding.

These were accountable measures that allowed us to monitor schools to ensure that children were getting a quality education.

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