What If Senators Actually Tried to Expel Cory Booker?

To start, it would be a case for the Ethics Committee

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, responds to a threat by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to release committee confidential documents during the start of day three of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The threat of expulsion that hung over the Judiciary Committee on Thursday jolted the proceedings, but it is highly unlikely that Cory Booker — or any other lawmaker — is actually going to be expelled from the Senate for the unauthorized disclosure of documents about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Booker dared Majority Whip John Cornyn to try to expel him Thursday, when he announced he had ordered his staff to release “committee confidential” documents relating to the New Jersey Democrat’s line of questioning at the Kavanaugh hearings.

Expulsion is loosely outlined in Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution, which states 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.”

Booker said he was knowingly violating a Senate rule that could lead to his removal. Expulsion from the Senate is rare and is not the only disciplinary route for the chamber. There’s also the possibility of censure.

Rule 29 of the Senate states in part that any senator “who shall disclose the secret or confidential business or proceedings of the Senate, including the business and proceedings of the committees, subcommittees, and offices of the Senate, shall be liable, if a Senator, to suffer expulsion from the body.”

This could end up as an issue for the Senate Ethics Committee, but that didn’t keep the vice chairman of that panel from stating he effectively agreed with what Booker was trying to do.

“I agree with Sen. Booker. This confirmation is too important for us to conceal documents that may reveal the nominee’s views, and I don’t think we should be proceeding under these grounds,” Sen. Chris Coons said at the Judiciary hearing.

The Democrat from Delaware, who has the unceremonious job of policing the official conduct of his colleagues, would likely be recused if anyone were to actually send a letter to Ethics Chairman Johnny Isakson requesting a review of the matter.

“No senator deserves to sit on this committee, or serve in the Senate in my view, if they decide to be a law unto themselves and willingly flout the rules of the Senate and the determination of confidentiality and classification,” Cornyn said at the nomination hearing. “That is irresponsible and conduct unbecoming a senator.”

The Ethics panel has jurisdiction over formal allegations of violations of the Senate Code of Official Conduct and violations of the rules and regulations of the Senate. It also has the authority to recommend disciplinary action and report violations of law to law enforcement.

Another reason it is highly unlikely? The committee itself, faced with a situation that threatened to get out of hand, with its members releasing confidential documents left and right, released the documents in question, making disciplinary action likely moot. 

Watch: Booker, Grassley, Cornyn Battle Over Release of Bush-Era Kavanaugh Emails

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