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How Does the U.S. Senate Expel, Censure, or Refuse to Seat any New Member?

By       Message Stephen Fox       (Page 1 of 9 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments

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In its long history, the US Congress has in several different ways expelled more than several members. This is germane to the discussion about what to do about Roy Moore if he is elected. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has maintained that even if Moore should win the election he should be expelled from the United States Senate.

Alabama's senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby, has been particularly outspoken about not backing Moore.

"I wouldn't vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better," Shelby said Sunday on CNN.

Much of this will depend on what action the Majority Leader wishes to take, and what comes out of the Senate Ethics Committee investigation into Moore's actions with young women, if that occurs, which seems quite inevitable to me. The hearings are bound to be lurid and disruptive, with many women testifying under oath, but that seems to be a very introductory and minimal price for this new Senator, if he is elected. Remember, please, that Mitch McConnell was the Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee that caused Oregon's Senator Packwood to step down after the Committee's report.

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In my lifetime and in my political observations, I only recall a very few instances wherein the body took action against a member, so I looked into this matter primarily on the US Senate's own history website, and in the writings of a few incisive journalists, and in the actual histories.

The one that stands out most prominently occurred at the beginning of the Civil War when the Senator from Indiana, Jesse Bright, was kicked out by a majority vote in the Senate for his pro-Confederacy actions, most particularly that of writing a letter of introduction to Jefferson Davis introducing and swearing to the good qualities of a Texas-based weapons dealer, as "a gentleman of the first respectability, and reliable in every respect."

This is inconceivable today, is it not, that any sitting US Senator would do such a thing, and try as hard as we can to imagine the times and the historical context of such an action, it is difficult to conclude that this was not considered outright Treason, punishable by the Death Penalty, and not merely being expelled from the US Senate.

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Expulsion or Censure are both possibilities.

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."

Since 1789, the Senate has expelled only fifteen members, fourteen for supporting the South during the Civil War.

In just a very few other cases, the Senate considered expulsion proceedings but either found the member not guilty or failed to act before the member left office, and mostly these revolved around egregious corruption. .

In the entire Senate history, only four members have been convicted of crimes. They were: Joseph R. Burton (1905), John Hipple Mitchell (1905), Truman H. Newberry (1920), and Harrison Williams (1981). Newberry's conviction was later overturned. Mitchell died. Burton, Newberry, and Williams resigned before the Senate could act on their expulsion.

United States Senate Expulsion Cases

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1797 William Blount (R-TN) Charge: Anti-Spanish conspiracy; treason Result: Expelled

1808 John Smith (R-OH) Charge: Disloyalty/Treason Result: Not Expelled; Expulsion failed 19 to 10--less than the necessary two-thirds majority. At request of the Ohio legislature, Smith resigned two weeks after the vote. (His counsel was Francis Scott Key.)

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