Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Expulsion, Censure, Reprimand, and Fine: Legislative Discipline in the House of Representatives

Jack Maskell
Legislative Attorney

The House of Representatives—in the same manner as the United States Senate—is expressly authorized within the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 5, clause 2) to discipline or “punish” its own Members. This authority of the House to discipline a Member for “disorderly Behaviour” is in addition to any criminal or civil liability that a Member of the House may incur for particular misconduct, and is used not merely to punish an individual Member, but to protect the institutional integrity of the House of Representatives, its proceedings, and its reputation.

The House may discipline its Members without the necessity of Senate concurrence. The most common forms of discipline in the House are now “expulsion,” “censure,” or “reprimand”; although the House may also discipline its Members in other ways, including fine or monetary restitution, loss of seniority, and suspension or loss of certain privileges. In addition to such sanctions imposed by the full House of Representatives, the standing committee in the House which deals with ethics and official conduct matters, the House Committee on Ethics—formerly called the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct—is authorized by House Rules to issue a formal “Letter of Reproval” for misconduct which does not rise to the level of consideration or sanction by the entire House of Representatives. Additionally, the Committee on Ethics has also expressed its disapproval of certain conduct in informal letters and communications to Members.

The House may generally discipline its Members for violations of statutory law, including crimes; for violations of internal congressional rules; or for any conduct which the House of Representatives finds has reflected discredit upon the institution. Thus, each house of Congress has disciplined its own Members for conduct which has not necessarily violated any specific rule or law, but which was found to breach its privileges, demonstrate contempt for the institution, or reflect discredit on the House or Senate. When the most severe sanction of expulsion has been employed in the House of Representatives, however, the underlying conduct deemed by the House to have merited removal from office has historically involved either disloyalty to the United States Government, or the violation of a criminal law involving the abuse of one’s official position, such as bribery. The House of Representatives has actually expelled only five Members in its history, but a number of Members, facing likely congressional discipline for various forms of misconduct, have resigned from Congress prior to any formal House action or leave office after election defeat.

This report has been updated from earlier versions and will be revised as events and changes in Rules or laws may warrant.

Date of Report: May 2, 2013
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: RL31382
Price: $29.95

To Order:

RL31382.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.