A U.S. Senate member getting expelled from office hasn’t happened since 1862. So when this 1917 article was written, it had already been 55 years since the last time.
It’s come close to happening since. In the past century, there have been 9 senators who faced expulsion proceedings. But all of them either resigned before they could be removed from office, or else did not meet the required threshold that two-thirds of the Senate vote to expel them.
The most recent case was in 2011, when Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) was charged with financial misconduct, but he resigned before he could be expelled.
The last time a senator even faced an expulsion vote at all, and didn’t resign beforehand, was in 1942. Sen. William Langer (R-ND) was charged with corruption, but the Senate voted 52-30 to keep him in office.
14 of the 15 Senate expulsions that have ever taken place occurred during the Civil War, when multiple senators were expelled for supporting the Confederacy.
But it might potentially happen again later this year.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is facing a corruption trial this month. If Menendez is convicted and is expelled (or resigns), under New Jersey state law, the governor would appoint the successor.
If it’s before January 2018, that would be Republican Gov. Chris Christie. But if it’s after January 2018, the next governor would have the privilege — and polling indicates that the November gubernatorial election will likely be a landslide win for Democrat Phil Murphy.
With Republicans only holding a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, every vote counts — see this summer’s health care repeal which failed by only a single vote. So a Senate seat that potentially switches parties could change things dramatically in Washington and the country at large.
Precedents for Expulsion of Senators: Some Cases During Civil War Days Recalled by Present Demand for Oustin of La Follette and Other Obstructionists
From Sunday, October 7, 1917
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