Expulsion from the United States Congress

Expulsion is the most serious form of disciplinary action that can be taken against a Member of Congress. Article I, Section 5 of the United States Constitution provides that "Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member." The processes for expulsion differ somewhat between the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Censure, a less severe form of disciplinary action, is an official sanction of a member that does not remove a member from office.

Process leading to expulsion

Presently, the disciplinary process begins when a resolution to expel or censure a Member is referred to the appropriate committee. In the House, this is the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (House Ethics Committee); in the Senate, this is the Select Committee on Ethics (Senate Ethics Committee).

The committee may then ask other Representatives or Senators to come forward with complaints about the Member under consideration or may initiate an investigation into the Member's actions. Sometimes Members may refer a resolution calling for an investigation into a particular Member or matter that may lead to the recommendation of expulsion or censure.

Rule XI (Procedures of committees and unfinished business) of the Rules of the House of Representatives state that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct can investigate allegations that a Member violated "any law, rule, regulation, or other standard of conduct applicable to the conduct of such Member... in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities". The Senate Select Committee on Ethics has the same jurisdiction. The committee may then report back to their whole chamber as to its findings and recommendations for further actions.

When an investigation is launched by either committee, an investigatory subcommittee will be formed. Once the investigatory subcommittee has collected evidence, talked to witnesses, and held an adjudicatory hearing it will vote on whether the Member is found to have committed the specific actions and then will vote on recommendations. If expulsion is the recommendation then the subcommittee's report will be referred to the full House of Representatives or Senate where Members may vote to accept, reject, or alter the report's recommendation. Voting to expel requires the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present and voting.

History of expulsions from Congress

In the entire history of the United States Congress, 20 Members have been expelled: 15 from the Senate and five from the House of Representatives (of those, one member's expulsion, William K. Sebastian of Arkansas, was posthumously reversed). Because the bulk of the expulsions were expulsions of Southern sympathizers during the American Civil War, 19 of the 20 expulsions involved a member of the Democratic Party, with the only exception pre-dating the founding of the modern political parties. Censure has been a much more common form of disciplinary action in Congress over the years, as it requires a much lower threshold of votes to impose.

The great majority of those expelled — 17 members — were removed from office for their support of the Confederacy in the immediate aftermath of secession. In 1861, after the Civil War had broken out, 11 Senators (including former Vice President and Kentucky Senator John C. Breckinridge) and three Representatives were expelled for supporting the Confederacy. In 1862, three more Representatives were expelled for supporting the Confederate States (John Bullock Clark and John William Reid of Missouri as well as Henry Cornelius Burnett of Kentucky).

There have only been three other expulsions. In 1797, Senator William Blount of Tennessee was expelled for treason, with charges centering on a plan to incite the Creek and Cherokee to aid the British in conquering the Spanish territory of West Florida. Blount remains the only Senator to be expelled for a reason other than supporting the Confederacy.

In 1980 Representative Michael Myers of Pennsylvania was expelled for bribes in connection with the Abscam scandal. In 2002, Representative Jim Traficant of Ohio was expelled after he was convicted on numerous counts of bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion.

There have been numerous other attempts at expelling members of Congress. In many of those instances members under serious threat of expulsion resigned, including

There were other instances in which expulsion has been sought, but was rejected, or the member's term expired:

See also


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