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United States Senate Censure Cases

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." Censure is a form of discipline used by the Senate against its members (sometimes referred to as condemnation or denouncement). A formal statement of disapproval, a censure does not remove a senator from office. Since 1789 the Senate has censured nine of its members.

DateName (Party-State)ChargeResultVote
1811Jan 2, 1811 Timothy Pickering (F-MA) Reading confidential documents in open Senate session before an injunction of secrecy was removed. Censured 1 20-7
1844May 10, 1844 Benjamin Tappan (D-OH) Releasing to the New York Evening Post a copy of President John Tyler's message to the Senate on April 22, 1844 regarding the treaty of annexation between the U.S. and the Republic of Texas. Censured 2 38-7
1902Feb 28, 1902 Benjamin R. Tillman (D-SC) & John L. McLaurin (D-SC) (D-VA) Fighting in the Senate chamber on Feb 22, 1902. Censured & Suspended 3 54-12; 22 not voting
1929Nov 4, 1929 Hiram Bingham (R-CT) Employing as a Senate staff member Charles Eyanson, who was simultaneously employed by the Manufacturers Association of Connecticut. Eyanson was hired to assist Bingham on tariff legislation. The issue broadened into the question of the government employing dollar-a-year-men. Condemned 4 54-22; 18 not voting
1954Dec 2, 1954 Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI) Abuse and noncooperation with the Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections during a 1952 investigation of his conduct, for abuse of the Select Committee to Study Censure. Condemned 5 67-22
1967Jun 23, 1967 Thomas J. Dodd (D-CT) Use of his office (1961-1965) to convert campaign funds to his personal benefit. Conduct unbecoming a senator. Censured 6 92-5
1979Oct 11, 1979 Herman E. Talmadge (D-GA) Improper financial conduct (1973-1978), accepting reimbursements of $43, 435.83 for official expenses not incurred, and improper reporting of campaign receipts and expenditures. Denounced 7 81-15
1990Jul 25, 1990 David F. Durenberger (R-MN) Unethical conduct "in connection with his arrangement with Piranha Press and Boston area appearances, his structuring of a real estate transaction and receipt of Senate reimbursements in connection with his stays in his Minneapolis condominium, his pattern of prohibited communications respecting the condominium, his repeated acceptance of prohibited gifts of limousine service for personal purposes, and the conversion of a campaign contribution to his personal use." Denounced 8 96-0

1. Failed reelection (elected to the House of Representatives in 1812).

2. Did not run for reelection

3. Each was censured and suspended retroactively, for six says. This incident led to the adoption of Rule XX governing the conduct of debate in the Chamber. Tillman--reelected; McLaurin--did not run for reelection.

4. Bingham was "condemned" for conduct tending "to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute." Defeated for reelection.

5. Died in office.

6. Defeated for reelection.

7. Talmadge's conduct was "denounced" as reprehensible and tending to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. Defeated for reelection.

8. Durenberger was "denounced" for reprehensible conduct, bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. Did not run for reelection.

Further Reading: Butler, Anne M., and Wendy Wolff, United States Senate Election, Expulsion and Censure Cases, 1793-1990 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1995).