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About Expulsion

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 15 members. Of that number, 14 were expelled during the Civil War for supporting the Confederacy. In several other cases, the Senate considered expulsion but either dropped those proceedings or failed to act before the member left office. In those cases, corruption was the primary cause of complaint.

DateName (Party-State)ChargeResult
1797William Blount (R-TN)Anti-Spanish conspiracy; treasonExpelled
1808John Smith (DR-OH)Disloyalty/TreasonNot Expelled 1
1861James M. Mason (D-VA)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1861Robert M. T. Hunter (D-VA)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1861Thomas L. Clingman (D-NC)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1861Thomas Bragg (D-NC)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1861James Chesnut, Jr. (D-SC)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1861Alfred O. P. Nicholson (D-TN)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1861William K. Sebastian (D-AR)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled 2
1861Charles B. Mitchel (D-AR)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1861John Hemphill (D-TX)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1861Louis T. Wigfall (D-TX)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled 3
1861John C. Breckinridge (D-KY)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1862Lazarus W. Powell (D-KY)Support for Confederate rebellionNot Expelled
1862Trusten Polk (D-MO)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1862Waldo P. Johnson (D-MO)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1862Jesse D. Bright (D-IN)Support for Confederate rebellionExpelled
1862James F. Simmons (R-RI)CorruptionResigned 4
1873James W. Patterson (R-NH)CorruptionTerm Expired 5
1893William N. Roach (D-ND)EmbezzlementNot Expelled 6
1906Joseph R. Burton (R-KS)CorruptionResigned 7
1907Reed Smoot (R-UT)MormonismNot Expelled 8
1919Robert M. La Follette (R-WI)DisloyaltyNot Expelled 9
1922Truman H. Newberry (R-MI)Election fraudResigned 10
1924Burton K. Wheeler (D-MT)Conflict of interestNot Expelled 11
1934John H. Overton (D-LA)Election fraudNo Senate action 12
1934Huey P. Long (D-LA)Election fraudNo Senate action 13
1942William Langer (R-ND)CorruptionNot Expelled 14
1982Harrison A. Williams, Jr. (D-NJ)CorruptionResigned 15
1995Robert W. Packwood (R-OR)Sexual misconduct and abuse of powerResigned 16

1. 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.)

2. On March 3, 1877, the Senate reversed its decision to expel Sebastian. Because Sebastian had died in 1865, his children were paid an amount equal to his Senate salary between the time of his expulsion and the date of his death.

3. In March 1861, the Senate took no action on an initial resolution expelling Wigfall because he represented a state that had seceded from the Union. Three months later, on July 10, 1861, he was expelled for supporting the Confederacy.

4. On July 14, 1862, the Judiciary Committee reported that the charges against Simmons were essentially correct. The Senate adjourned three days later, and Simmons resigned on September 5 before the Senate could take action.

5. A Senate select committee recommended expulsion on February 27. On March 1, a Republican caucus decided that there was insufficient time remaining in the session to deliberate the matter. Patterson's term expired March 3, and no further action was taken.

6. After extensive deliberation, the Senate took no action, assuring that it lacked jurisdiction over members' behavior before their election to the Senate. The alleged embezzlement had occurred 13 years earlier.

7. Burton was indicted and convicted of receiving compensation for intervening with a federal agency. When the Supreme Court upheld his conviction, he resigned rather than face expulsion.

8. After an investigation spanning two years, the Committee on Privileges and Elections reported that Smoot was not entitled to his seat because he was a leader in a religion that advocated polygamy and a union of church and state, contrary to the U.S. Constitution. By a vote of 27 to 43, however, the Senate failed to expel him, finding that he satisfied the constitutional requirements for serving as a senator.

9. The Committee on Privileges and Elections recommended that the Senate take no action since the speech in question (a 1917 speech opposing U.S. entry into World War I) did not warrant it. The Senate agreed 50 to 21.

10. On March 20, 1920, Newberry was convicted on charges of spending $3,750 to secure his Senate election. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned this decision (May 2, 1921) on the ground that the U.S. Senate exceeded its powers in attempting to regulate primary elections. By a vote of 46 to 41 (January 12, 1922), the Senate declared Newberry to have been duly elected in 1918. On November 18—two days before the start of the 3rd session of the 67th Congress—Newberry resigned as certain members resumed their efforts to unseat him.

11. Wheeler was indicted for serving while a senator in cases in which the U.S. was a party. A Senate committee, however, found that his dealings related to litigation before state courts and that he received no compensation for any service before the federal departments. The Senate exonerated him by a vote of 56 to 5.

12. The Committee on Privileges and Elections concluded that the charges and evidence were insufficient to warrant further consideration.

13. The Committee on Privileges and Elections considered this case in conjunction with that against Senator Overton (see Note 12) and reached the same conclusion.

14. Recommending that this case was properly one of exclusion, not expulsion, the Committee on Privileges and Elections declared Langer guilty of moral turpitude and voted 13 to 2 to deny him his seat. The Senate disagreed, 52 to 30, arguing that the evidence was hearsay and inconclusive. Langer retained his seat.

15. The Committee on Ethics recommended that Williams be expelled because of his "ethically repugnant" conduct in the Abscam scandal, for which he was convicted of conspiracy, bribery, and conflict of interest. Prior to a Senate vote on his expulsion, Williams resigned on March 11, 1982.

16. The Committee on Ethics recommended that Packwood be expelled for abuse of his power as a senator "by repeatedly committing social misconduct" and "by engaging in a deliberate ... plan to enhance his personal financial position" by seeking favors "from persons who had a particular interest in legislation of issues" that he could influence, as well as for seeking "to obstruct and impede the committee's inquires by withholding, alerting, and destroying relevant evidence." On September 7, 1995, the day after the committee issued its recommendation, Packwood announced his resignation without specifying an effective date. On September 8, he indicated that he would resign effective October 1, 1995.

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