Expulsion and censure

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Expulsion is the most serious form of disciplinary action that can be taken against a Member of Congress. Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution states 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." Censure is a less severe form of disciplinary action that does not remove a Senator from office but is a serious black mark on a Senator's standing and career. A vote for censure requires a simple majority to pass.


Process leading to expulsion or censure

Presently, the disciplinary process begins when a resolution to expel or censure a Member is referred to the House Ethics Committee or the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. The Committee may then ask other Members 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.

The Rules of the House of Representatives (House Rule XI) 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 jurisdictional authority. Either Committee may then report back to the appropriate House of Congress its findings and recommendations for further actions.

When an investigation is launched by the 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 accept the recommendation of expulsion requires a 2/3 vote (290 representatives or 67 Senators) to succeed.

History of disciplinary action


In the history of the United States Congress there have been 19 Members expelled, 15 from the Senate and 4 from the House of Representatives. The majority of those expelled were removed from office for their support of the Confederacy in the immediate aftermath of secession. In 1861 eleven Southern Senators were expelled including the 1860 Democratic Presidential nominee John Breckinridge. In 1862 three more Senators were expelled for supporting the Confederate rebellion. Three Members of the House were expelled in 1861 for supporting the Confederacy as well.

There have only been three other expulsions from Congress in its entire history. In 1797 Sen. William Blount (TN) was expelled for "Anti-Spanish conspiracy" and treason. In 1980 Rep. Michael Myers (PA) was expelled for accepting money in return for using his official position to influence immigrations matters. In 2002 Rep. Jim Traficant (OH) 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 a few instances those Members, under serious threat of expulsion, resigned. Some of these cases include:

  • 1862: Sen. James Simmons (RI) resigned before the Senate could take action after the Judiciary Committee ruled that charges of corruption against him were "essentially correct".
  • 1906: Sen. Joseph Burton (KS) resigned after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction on bribery charges.
  • 1922: Sen. Truman Newberry (MI) was convicted of violating campaign finance laws. The Supreme Court overturned his conviction on the grounds that the Senate had gone too far in the regulation of campaign finance and the Senate voted to seat him. Newberrry, however, resigned instead of face further pressure from opponents who aimed to expel him.
  • 1982: Sen. Harrison Williams, Jr. (NJ) resigned after the Committee on Ethics recommended his expulsion due to his "ethically repugnant" actions in the Abscam scandal.
  • 1995: Sen. Robert Packwood (OR) resigned after the Committee of Ethics recommended his expulsion due to his gross sexual misconduct and his attempts to enrich himself through his official position.
  • 2006: Rep. Bob Ney (OH) resigned his seat in Congress after being convicted in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal.[1]

There have also been instances where some Members sought to expel another from Congress only to have expulsion rejected. Some more notable cases include:

  • 1808: Sen. John Smith (OH) was implicated in the Aaron Burr-led conspiracy to invade Mexico and create a new country in the west. Sen. John Quincy Adams (MA) led the attempt to expel Smith from the Senate while Francis Scott Key defended Smith before the Senate. Smith's expulsion failed by one vote to reach the 2/3s threshold, however he resigned at the end of that year's session.
  • 1907: Sen. Reed Smoot (UT) was the subject of a two-year investigation by the Committee on Privileges and Elections regarding his religious affiliation -- Mormonism. The Committee found that Smoot was not due his seat in the Senate because he was "a leader in a religion that advocated polygamy and a union of church and state, contrary to the U.S. Constitution."[2] Smoot's expulsion failed by a vote of 27-43 after the Senate decided that he was fit the constitutional requirements to be a Senator.
  • 1919: Sen. Robert LaFollette (WI) was accused of disloyalty after a speech he gave in opposition to the First World War. The Committee on Privileges and Elections recommended that LaFollette not be expelled and the Senate concurred.


Censure has been a much more common form of disciplinary action in Congress over the years. There have been 31 censured Members of Congress, 22 in the House and 9 in the Senate. The most recent instances of censure in the House was during the 1983 Congressional Page Scandal when Rep. Gerry Studds (MA) and Rep. Daniel Crane (IL) were censured for sexual misconduct with House Pages.[3] In the Senate, Sen. Daniel Durenberger (MI) was censured in 1990 for a variety of improper activities regarding a condominium and his use of campaign funds.[4]

Notable cases of censure include Sen. Joseph McCarthy's (WI) censure in 1954[5], Sen. Thomas Dodd's (CT) censure for corrupt activities in 1967, and Hiram Bingaman's (CT) censure for employing an employee of Manufacturer's Association of Connecticut as his assistant.

Full List of Expelled and Censured

Year Name & Title Party State Details
1797 Sen. William Blount Democratic-Republican Tennessee Expelled for treason and conspiracy to incite the Creek and Cherokee Indians to assist Great Britain in invading Florida.
1811 Sen. Timothy Pickering Federalist Massachusetts Censured for reading confidential documents into the Senate record.
1832 Rep. William Stanberry Anti-Jacksonian/National Republican Ohio Censured for insulting the Speaker of the House.
1842 Rep. Joshua Giddings Whig Ohio Censured for introducing a series of resolutions asserting that a group of slaves who had revolted on a ship and sailed to Britain had the natural right to liberty and were therefore not subject to U.S. law.
1844 Sen. Benjamin Tappan Democratic Ohio Censured for releasing a copy of President John Tyler's message regarding the treaty of annexation of Texas to the United States.
1856 Rep. Lawrence Keitt Democratic South Carolina Censured for assisting in the assault on a Member of Congress.
1861 Sen. James M. Mason Democratic Virginia Expelled for supporting Confederate rebellion.
Sen. Robert M.T. Hunter Democratic
Sen. Thomas L. Clingman Democratic North Carolina
Sen. Thomas Bragg Democratic
Sen. James Chesnut, Jr. Democratic South Carolina
Sen. Alfred O.P. Nicholson Democratic Tennessee
Sen. William K. Sebastian Democratic Arkansas Expelled for supporting Confederate rebellion.
His expulsion was posthumously reversed in 1877.
Sen. Charles B. Mitchel Democratic Expelled for supporting Confederate rebellion.
Sen. John Hemphill Democratic Texas
Sen. Louis T. Wigfall Democratic
Sen. John C. Breckinridge Democratic Kentucky
Rep. John Bullock Clark Democratic Missouri
Rep. John Reid Democratic
Rep. Henry Burnett Democratic Kentucky
1862 Sen. Trusten Polk Democratic Missouri
Sen. Waldo P. Johnson Democratic
Sen. Jesse D. Bright Democratic Indiana
1864 Rep. Benjamin Harris Democratic Maryland Censured for treasonous conduct in opposing the subjugation of the South.
Rep. Alexander Long Democratic Ohio Censured for supporting the recognition of the Confederacy
1866 Rep. John Chanler Democratic New York Censured for insulting the House by introducing a resolution containing unparliamentary language.
Rep. Lovell Rousseau Unionist Kentucky Censured for assaulting another Member.
1867 Rep. John Hunter Democratic New York Censured for unparliamentary language.
1868 Rep. Fernando Wood Democratic New York
1869 Rep. Edward Holbrook Democratic Idaho
1870 Rep. Benjamin Whittemore Republican South Carolina Censured for selling military academy appointments (was "condemned" after resigining).
Rep. John DeWeese Republican North Carolina
Rep. Roderick Butler Republican Tennessee Censured for accepting money in return for appointments to West Point Academy.
1873 Rep. Oakes Ames Republican Massachusetts Censured for bribery in the "Credit Mobilier" scandal.
Rep. James Brooks Democratic New York
1875 Rep. John Brown Democratic Kentucky Censured for unparliamentary language.
1890 Rep. William Bynum Democratic Indiana
1902 Sen. Benjamin Tillman Democratic South Carolina Censured for fighting in the Senate chamber.
Sen. John McLaurin Democratic
1921 Rep. Thomas Blanton Democratic Texas Censured for unparliamentary language.
1929 Sen. Hiram Bingaman Republican Connecticut Censured for employing an assistant who was simultaneously employed by the Manufacturer's Association of Connecticut.
1954 Sen. Joseph McCarthy Republican Wisconsin Censured for abuse and non-cooperation with the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections during an investigation into his conduct.
1967 Sen. Thomas Dodd Democratic Connecticut Censured for using his congressional office to convert campaign funds for his personal benefit.
1979 Rep. Charles Diggs Democratic Michigan Censured for being convicted of payroll fraud.
Sen. Herman Talmadge Democratic Georgia Censured for improper financial conduct and improper reporting of campaign receipts and expenditures.
1980 Rep. Charles Wilson Democratic California Censured for receiving improper gifts; "ghost employees"; and improper use of campaign funds.
1980 Rep. Michael Myers Democratic Pennsylvania Expelled for accepting bribes in the Abscam scandal.
1983 Rep. Gerry Studds Democratic Massachusetts Censured for sexual misconduct with a House page.
Rep. Daniel Crane Republican Illinois
1990 Sen. David Durenberger Republican Minnesota Censured for unethical conduct including acceptance of prohibited gifts, converting campaign contributions to personal use, illegal use of a condominuim, and the structuring of a real estate deal.
2002 Rep. James Traficant Democratic Ohio Expelled after being convicted on charges of bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion.
2010 Rep. Charles Rangel Democratic New York Censured for improper use of House letterhead for fundraising, failing to disclose personal financial assets, failing to pay taxes on a Dominican villa, and using a rent-controlled New York city apartment as a political office.

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