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Are Expelled House Members Able to Be Re-Elected?

Q: I am an Ohio voter with a question regarding the qualifications to be a Member of Congress. I read that James Traficant is planning to run for the House of Representatives this year. As I recall, he was expelled from the House years ago for accepting bribes, and even went to jail. Doesn’t that make him ineligible for Congress? Or can expelled Members rejoin the House if elected again?

A: In 2002, after almost 18 years in Congress, Rep. James Traficant (D-, now I-Ohio) was convicted of federal charges of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. He was subsequently expelled from the House and sentenced to eight years in prison. Later that year, despite being in prison, Traficant ran for re-election. Although he lost to a former aide, he did win 15 percent of the vote. More than 27,000 people voted for him.

Several months ago, Traficant was released from prison, and he recently announced that he will run for Congress as an Independent in one of three districts. So, is Traficant eligible for the seat? If the voters of his district were to elect a man who was expelled from Congress for abusing his power, would Congress be required to seat him?

The answer to these questions is almost certainly yes. The requirements for membership in the House appear in Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states in full: “No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.” This means there are just three requirements to be a Member of the House. You must be 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for seven years and an inhabitant of the state you represent. These criteria cannot be changed without an amendment to the Constitution.

In the landmark 1969 case Powell v. McCormack, the Supreme Court considered the grounds on which Congress may refuse to seat someone who has been duly elected. The case involved Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.) who, in 1966, faced a House Special Committee investigation relating to expenditures of a House committee that he chaired. The special committee concluded that Powell deceived the House about travel expenses and that there was strong evidence of illegal salary payments to his wife. However, no formal action was taken against Powell at the time. Later that year, Powell won re-election. Congress, however, refused to seat him.

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