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Expulsion is the most serious form of disciplinary action that can be taken against a Member of Congress. [ clarification needed ]The United States Constitution (Article I, Section 5, Clause 2) 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. It does not remove a member from office.
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 states 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. This is set out in Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution.
In the entire history of the United States Congress, 20 Members have been expelled: 15 from the Senate and 5 from the House of Representatives (of those, one member's expulsion, Senator William K. Sebastian of Arkansas, was posthumously reversed). 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.
17 of the 20 were expelled for supporting the Confederate rebellion in 1861 and 1862, namely fourteen senators (including former Vice President, 1860 presidential candidate and Kentucky Senator John C. Breckinridge, Trusten Polk, Waldo P. Johnson and Jesse D. Bright) and three representatives (John Bullock Clark and John William Reid of Missouri and Henry Cornelius Burnett of Kentucky).
The other three expulsions were:
There have been numerous other attempts to expel members of Congress. In many of those instances members under serious threat of expulsion resigned, including:
There were other instances in which investigations were brought, but the defendants were exonerated, expulsion was rejected, insufficient evidence was found, or the member's term expired:
Abscam was an FBI sting operation in the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to the convictions of seven members of the United States Congress, among others. The two-year investigation initially targeted trafficking in stolen property and corruption of prominent businessmen, but later evolved into a public corruption investigation. The FBI was aided by the Justice Department and a convicted con-man in videotaping politicians accepting bribes from a fictitious Arabian company in return for various political favors.
James Anthony Traficant Jr. was a Democratic, and later independent, politician and member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio. He represented the 17th Congressional District, which centered on his hometown of Youngstown and included parts of three counties in northeast Ohio's Mahoning Valley. He was expelled from the House after being convicted of 10 felony counts including taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering, and forcing his Congressional staff to perform chores at his farm in Ohio and houseboat in Washington, D.C. He was sentenced to prison and released on September 2, 2009, after serving a seven-year sentence.
Reed Smoot was a businessman and apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was elected by the Utah state legislature to the United States Senate in 1902; he served as a Republican senator from 1903 to 1933. From his time in the Senate, Smoot is primarily remembered as the co-sponsor of the 1930 Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, which increased almost 900 American import duties. Thomas Lamont, a partner at J.P. Morgan at the time said, "That Act intensified nationalism all over the world". The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act is widely regarded as one of the catalysts for the Great Depression.
John Eric Ensign is an American veterinarian and former politician from Las Vegas, Nevada. A member of the Republican Party, Ensign was a Congressman and United States Senator from Nevada; he served in the latter seat from January 2001 until May 2011, when he resigned amid a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his attempts to hide an extramarital affair. Following his resignation from the Senate, Ensign returned to Nevada and resumed his career as a veterinarian.
Robert William Packwood is an American former attorney and politician from Oregon and a member of the Republican Party. He resigned from the United States Senate, under threat of expulsion, in 1995 after allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and assault of women emerged.
A censure is an expression of strong disapproval or harsh criticism. In parliamentary procedure, it is a debatable main motion that could be adopted by a majority vote. Among the forms that it can take are a stern rebuke by a legislature, a spiritual penalty imposed by a church, or a negative judgment pronounced on a theological proposition. It is usually non-binding, unlike a motion of no confidence.
The 1983 Congressional Page sex scandal was a political scandal in the United States involving members of the United States House of Representatives.
Truman Handy Newberry was an American businessman and political figure. He served as the Secretary of Navy between 1908 and 1909. He was a Republican U.S. Senator from Michigan between 1919 and 1922.
Harrison Arlington "Pete" Williams Jr. was an American Democratic politician who represented New Jersey in the United States House of Representatives (1953–1957) and the United States Senate (1959–1982). Williams was convicted on May 1, 1981, for taking bribes in the Abscam sting operation, and resigned from the U.S. Senate in 1982 before a planned expulsion vote.
The Committee on Ethics, often known simply as the Ethics Committee, is one of the committees of the United States House of Representatives. Prior to the 112th Congress it was known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
Michael Joseph "Ozzie" Myers is an American politician who served in the United States House of Representatives as a member of the Democratic Party. During his tenure in the House of Representatives he became involved in the Abscam scandal and was later expelled from the House of Representatives. In 2020, he was indicted for election fraud.
Jesse David Bright was the ninth Lieutenant Governor of Indiana and U.S. Senator from Indiana who served as President pro tempore of the Senate on three occasions. He was the only senator from a Northern state to be expelled for being a Confederate sympathizer. As a leading Copperhead he opposed the Civil War.
Raymond Francis Lederer was a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives, representing Pennsylvania's 3rd congressional district from 1977 to 1981. He was convicted of taking bribes in the 1980 Abscam scandal.
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Theo W. Mitchell is an attorney from South Carolina who served in the South Carolina General Assembly from 1975 to 1995.