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United States Senate Expulsion 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."

Since 1789, the Senate has expelled only fifteen of its entire membership. Of that number, fourteen were charged with support of the Confederacy during the Civil War. In several other cases, the Senate considered expulsion proceedings but either found the member not guilty or failed to act before the member left office. In those cases, corruption was the primary cause of complaint.

DateName (Party-State)ChargeResult
1797 William Blount (R-TN) Anti-Spanish conspiracy; treason Expelled
1808 John Smith (R-OH) Disloyalty/Treason Not Expelled 1
1861 James M. Mason (D-VA) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1861 Robert M. T. Hunter (D-VA) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1861 Thomas L. Clingman (D-NC) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1861 Thomas Bragg (D-NC) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1861 James Chesnut, Jr. (D-SC) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1861 Alfred O. P. Nicholson (D-TN) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1861 William K. Sebastian (D-AR) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled 2
1861 Charles B. Mitchel (D-AR) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1861 John Hemphill (D-TX) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1861 Louis T. Wigfall (D-TX) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled 3
1861 John C. Breckinridge (D-KY) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1862 Lazarus W. Powell (D-KY) Support for Confederate rebellion Not Expelled
1862 Trusten Polk (D-MO) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1862 Waldo P. Johnson (D-MO) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1862 Jesse D. Bright (D-IN) Support for Confederate rebellion Expelled
1862 James F. Simmons (R-RI) Corruption Resigned 4
1873 James W. Patterson (R-NH) Corruption Term Expired 5
1893 William N. Roach (D-ND) Embezzlement Not Expelled 6
1906 Joseph R. Burton (R-KS) Corruption Resigned 7
1907 Reed Smoot (R-UT) Mormonism Not Expelled 8
1919 Robert M. La Follette (R-WI) Disloyalty Not Expelled 9
1922 Truman H. Newberry (R-MI) Election fraud Resigned 10
1924 Burton K. Wheeler (D-MT) Conflict of interest Not Expelled 11
1934 John H. Overton (D-LA) Election fraud No Senate action 12
1934 Huey P. Long (D-LA) Election fraud No Senate action 13
1942 William Langer (R-ND) Corruption Not Expelled 14
1982 Harrison A. Williams, Jr. (D-NJ) Corruption Resigned 15
1995 Robert W. Packwood (R-OR) Sexual misconduct and abuse of power Resigned 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 as 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 causes 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 Privileges and Elections Committee considered this cause 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.

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