Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486; 89 S. Ct. 1944; 23 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1969)

Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486; 89 S. Ct. 1944; 23 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1969)

Facts—Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a flamboyant African American, had been elected from the Eighteenth Congressional District of New York to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives of the Ninetieth Congress. When he was not permitted to take his seat, Powell brought suit in federal District Court. He contended that the House could exclude him only if it found that he failed to meet the requirements of age, citizenship, and residence as stated in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Question—Can the House or Representatives exclude a duly elected member for reason other than failure to meet the qualifications set forth in the Constitution?


ReasonsC.J. Warren (8–1). Both the intentions of the Framers of the Constitution and the basic principles of our democratic system “persuade us that the Constitution does not vest in the Congress a discretionary power to deny membership by a majority vote.” The Court noted further that the provisions of Article I, Section 5 empowering each House to judge the qualifications of its own members is at most a “textually demonstrable commitment” to Congress to judge only the age, citizenship, and residency qualifications expressly set forth in the Constitution. Congress had the power to expel (rather than exclude) Powell, but it would have to do so by an explicit vote of two- thirds or more of its members.

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