Ranking member U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., looks on during the third day of Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 14, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Following the announcement by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 1 that Laphonza Butler would take the Senate seat left vacant by the death of 90-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Sept. 28, critics immediately raised alarms about the nominee’s place of residency, as she lives and is registered to vote in Maryland.
Article I of the Constitution regulates the eligibility of individuals for the position of senator by requiring that all be at least 30 years old and have nine years or more of citizenship, both qualifications that Ms. Butler meets.
The third guideline, however, has some questioning her eligibility, as the document states, “No person shall be a Senator who shall not ... when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen.”
Recent records from the Federal Election Commission reveal Ms. Butler’s address to be in Maryland, having lived in the state since leaving California in September 2021 to lead EMILY’s List—a pro-abortion political action committee based in Washington, D.C. and dedicated to electing female politicians.
This shouldn’t impact her ability to serve in the Senate, as she has a long history of living in California and has changed her voter registration, according to the governor’s office.
“[There are] no eligibility concerns,” a spokesperson for Mr. Newsom told The Epoch Times by email on Oct. 2. “Ms. Butler is a longtime California resident and homeowner. She has already re-registered to vote in California.”
No clarification was given as to whether Ms. Butler will be relocating to an existing home in the Golden State or continuing to reside in Maryland while serving her role in the Senate.
“If Governor Newsom’s Senate pick is seated, I will work with her however I can,” Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.) posted Oct. 2 on X, formerly known as Twitter. “But the Senate has an obligation to carefully assess whether Ms. Butler, a Maryland voter, meets the residency requirements in Article I of the Constitution.”
Emily's List President Laphonza Butler addresses a Biden-Harris campaign rally on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson decision which returned regulation of abortion to state governments, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on June 23, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Some legal analysts suggest Ms. Butler will likely be eligible, as long as she returns to California and is registered to vote in the state.
One state lawmaker argued that the main issue surrounding her appointment isn’t related to eligibility, but rather the political nature of the choice.
“Governor Newsom has a tendency to speak about things before he fully thinks them through ... and he pledged to appoint a black female ... as the other side of the aisle is seemingly obsessed with identity politics,” Sen. Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks) told The Epoch Times. “Why he would pick something that would be obviously politically controversial is puzzling. I don’t see why he’d stir up a political hornet’s nest over this.”
As the first black, lesbian senator in history, the governor said the decision was groundbreaking and expressed confidence in his selection.
“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President [Kamala] Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” Mr. Newsom said in a press release announcing the appointment.
“As we mourn the enormous loss of Senator Feinstein, the very freedoms she fought for—reproductive freedom, equal protection, and safety from gun violence—have never been under greater assault. Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.”
The governor spoke to the press for approximately 15 minutes at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on Oct. 2 but repeatedly declined to comment on Ms. Butler’s Maryland residency.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks to reporters in the spin room following the FOX Business Republican Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
One fellow lawmaker called the appointment a political maneuver designed to satisfy stakeholders tied to Ms. Butler—who served as campaign adviser to Ms. Harris and Hillary Clinton and was a longtime labor leader with the SEIU, a powerful union representing more than 2 million members.
“Out of 40 million California residents, Gavin Newsom seriously couldn’t find one to serve in the Senate? Heck, if he wanted someone with California roots and legislative experience, he could have given me a call,” Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times on Oct. 2. “Californians deserve real representation, not a political favor for a well-connected campaign operative who doesn’t even live here.”
Republican New Hampshire state Sen. Grant Bosse found humor in the situation, given the California exodus and the governor’s selection.
“So many people have moved out of California under Gavin Newsom that he’s appointing one of them to the Senate,” Mr. Bosse posted on X on Oct. 2.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) criticized the governor earlier this year when he announced that he would be choosing an interim replacement, suggesting that such was a “token” gesture, though she issued a statement recognizing the new appointment and paving the way for collaboration between the two.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., flanked by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a news conference on a measure limiting President Donald Trump's ability to take military action against Iran, on Capitol Hill, in Washington on Jan. 9, 2020. (Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo)
“I wish [her] well and look forward to working closely with her to deliver for the Golden State,” Ms. Lee posted on Oct. 2 on X. “I am singularly focused on winning my campaign for Senate. [California] deserves an experienced Senator who will deliver on progressive priorities.”
Ms. Lee and fellow Democrat Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter are among the list of candidates vying for the seat in 2024.