Under Article I, Section 5, clause 2, of the Constitution, a Member of Congress may be removed from office before the normal expiration of his or her constitutional term by an “expulsion” from the Senate (if a Senator) or from the House of Representatives (if a Representative) upon a formal vote on a resolution agreed to by two-thirds of the Members of the respective body present and voting. While there are no specific grounds for an expulsion expressed in the Constitution, expulsion actions in both the House and the Senate have generally concerned cases of perceived disloyalty to the United States, or the conviction of a criminal statutory offense which involved abuse of one’s official position. Each House has broad authority as to the grounds, nature, timing, and procedure for an expulsion of a Member. However, policy considerations, as opposed to questions of authority, have appeared to restrain the Senate and House in the exercise of expulsion when it might be considered as infringing on the electoral process, such as when the electorate knew of the past misconduct under consideration and still elected or re-elected the Member.
As to removal by recall, the United States Constitution does not provide for nor authorize the recall of United States officers such as Senators, Representatives, or the President or Vice President, and thus no Member of Congress has ever been recalled in the history of the United States. The recall of Members was considered during the time of the drafting of the federal Constitution in 1787, but no such provisions were included in the final version sent to the States for ratification, and the specific drafting and ratifying debates indicate an express understanding of the Framers and ratifiers that no right or power to recall a Senator or Representative from the United States Congress exists under the Constitution.
Although the Supreme Court has not needed to directly address the subject of recall of Members of Congress, other Supreme Court decisions, as well as the weight of other judicial and administrative decisions, rulings and opinions, indicate that: (1) the right to remove a Member of Congress before the expiration of his or her constitutionally established term of office is one which resides exclusively in each House of Congress as established in the expulsion clause of the United States Constitution, and (2) the length and number of the terms of office for federal officials, established and agreed upon by the States in the Constitution creating that Federal Government, may not be unilaterally changed by an individual State, such as through the enactment of a recall provision or a term limitation for a United States Senator or Representative. Under Supreme Court constitutional interpretation, since individual States never had the original sovereign authority to unilaterally change the terms and conditions of service of federal officials agreed to and established in the Constitution, such a power could not be “reserved” under the 10th Amendment.
Recall of state legislators has been somewhat more successful than that of governors, although still uncommon. For example in California there were 107 attempts to trigger a recall election between 1911 and 1994 and only 4 of these succeeded in reaching the number of required signatures on the petition:
- A state senator was recalled in 1913
- A state senator was recalled in 1914, and another state senator survived a recall attempt
- A state senator survived a recall attempt in 1994 with 59% of the vote
- Two Assembly members were recalled in 1995
In 1983 two state senators were recalled in Michigan for the first time in its history.
Recall is used much more often at the local level of government. At least 36 states permit recall of local officials.
Only 7 US states require certain preconditions to be met before a recall petition can be initiated. These are: Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington. The signature requirements to initiate a recall election vary between states but are generally based on a formula using the percentage of the vote in the last election as a base. For specific details of these states’ requirements please see: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/legismgt/elect/recallprovision.htm
Since Michigan was most recently successful at this, let’s take a look at what happened there:
Recall 1983? The History of Michigan’s Great Taxpayer Revolt.
In January of 1983, Governor James Blanchard had a problem. Michigan was in recession, losing jobs, and the legislature was facing declining tax revenues. Blanchard needed to hike taxes in order to maintain government spending, since real spending cuts seemed out of the question. He proposed, and passed through the legislature, a 38% income tax hike.
Taxpayers revolted. Recall drives were launched against Governor Blanchard and 14 state senators who supported the tax hike. Citizens launching these recalls were not taken seriously at first because no governor or state lawmaker had ever been recalled in the history of Michigan. Why?
Recalls of state officials are difficult. First, there are a huge number of petition signatures that citizens must collect. To recall a governor, citizens must collect valid signatures equal to 25% of the total number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election. That meant about 750,000 signatures in 1983, and would mean nearly one million signatures to recall Governor Granholm today. For a state representative or senator, citizens need signatures equal to 25% of the votes cast for governor in that lawmaker’s district. And they have only six months to do this.
The second reason recalls are hard is that the entire professional political establishment lines up against them. In 1983, citizens launching the recalls faced hostile local boards of canvassers (appointed partisan election officials) who ruled that the recall petition language was “unclear.” Some of these local canvassers even refused to attend scheduled meetings so that a quorum could not be present to certify recall petitions.
Having the law on your side didn’t always mean having judges on your side. A circuit court judge halted one of the recall efforts, but was later overruled by the appeals court who found in favor of the citizens. Citizen recall organizers also faced legal intimidation in the form of lawsuits brought by the state Democratic Party.
These hurdles were too much to overcome in the Blanchard recall, which failed to collect sufficient signatures. But citizens succeeded collecting signatures and winning court battles in the recall efforts against two state senators, Phil Mastin (D-Pontiac) and David Serotkin (D-Mt. Clemens). Both faced special recall elections in November of 1983. They, and the political establishment, would not give up without a fight.
Both Serotkin and Mastin raised huge sums of money from Lansing interests to defeat the recall, outspending pro-recall citizens by better than 10-1 margins. Both had consultants, staffers and organized interests to campaign on their behalf for a “No” vote in the recall election.
Both were recalled by voters by better than 2-1 margins. …
So.. what can we do? We can do plenty. We can use Saul Alinsky tactics right back at them. You can learn what those are exactly by reading my letter to the President from a few months ago. It lists them in detail and how they are using them against us.
We can call, write or fax every day! Make an email out once a week with pertinent issues and email it every day to their offices. It will only take you a few minutes a week, but will help pile it up, for future reference if nothing else. They are REQUIRED to keep every email, letter, fax, etc.. It will also give you a sense of empowerment, knowing you are doing something.
We can all work hard over the next year to stalemate, if not change, the course of what happens in Washington.
We can work to change the law.
Please, get involved.
I will do my best to find out more on this bill and will cover it in my weekend post.
I do know our health is in mortal danger. I do know they will be stopping payment of preventative tests for seniors over 75. To what degree, I can only pledge to try to find out.
Please stop back over the weekend to learn more.