Unseated members of the United States Congress

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Throughout the history of the United States Congress there have been times when members of either chamber have refused to seat new members. Article I, Section 5 of the United States Constitution states that, "Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide." This means that members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate can refuse to recognize the election or appointment of a new representative or senator. They can bar the individual outright or refer the matter to a committee for inquiry. Powell v. McCormack (1969) clarified the issue of the scope of powers of the Congress to refuse to seat an elected member. The Federal Contested Elections Act of 1969 currently lays out the procedures by which each House determines contested elections.

Unseated members of Congress[edit]

  • From 1869 to 1900, the House of Representatives refused to seat over 30 Southern Democratic candidates declared the winner by their states because the House Elections Committee concluded that fraud, violence, or intimidation had been used against black voters, or, in some cases, that the election statutes of the states themselves were unconstitutional. (Giles v. Harris (1903) ended the latter practice.) In some cases a new election was ordered, while in others the defeated Republican or Populist candidate was seated instead.[1][2]
  • Victor L. Berger (SP-Wisconsin) was not seated after his election to the House in 1918 because he had been convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917. After the House refused to seat him Wisconsin held a special election in December 1919, which Berger won again. The House again refused to seat him.
  • Louis C. Wyman (R-New Hampshire) was declared the victor of the US Senate contest in 1974 in New Hampshire by a narrow margin on Election Day (355 votes). A first recount gave the election instead to John A. Durkin (D-New Hampshire) by ten votes, but a second recount swung the result back to Wyman by only two votes. The state of New Hampshire certified Wyman as the winner, but Durkin appealed to the Senate, which had a sixty vote Democratic majority. The Senate refused to seat Wyman while considering the matter. After a long and contentious debate in the Senate, with Republicans filibustering attempts by the Democratic majority to seat Durkin instead, a special election was held, with Durkin winning handily and becoming Senator.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morton Stavis, A Century of Struggle for Black Enfranchisement in Mississippi: From the Civil War to the Congressional Challenge of 1965 -- and Beyond, 57 Mississippi Law Journal 591 (1987).
  2. ^ J. Morgan Kousser, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910 (1974)
  3. ^ "Burris v. White, Illinois Supreme Court, No. 107816" (PDF). January 9, 2009. 
  4. ^ Donning, Mike (January 5, 2009). "U.S. Senate officer rejects Burris' paperwork to fill seat". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  5. ^ Espos, David (January 5, 2009). "Burris says he's senator — but Dems won't seat him". Yahoo! News. Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-01-06. [dead link]
  6. ^ Mihalopoulos, Dan (January 10, 2009). "Supreme Court ruling gives Burris the Senate seat, attorney says". Chicago Tribune. 
  7. ^ Raju, Manu; Bresnahan, John (January 12, 2009). "Dems accept Burris into the Senate". Politico. 
  8. ^ "Senate Dems expect to seat Burris Thursday: Burris: 'I really never doubted that I would be seated'". MSNBC.com. Microsoft. January 13, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-14. 
  9. ^ Davis, Susan (January 13, 2009). "Roland Burris to Be Sworn In as Senator on Thursday". The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.). Retrieved 2009-01-14. 
  10. ^ Hulse, Carl (January 15, 2009). "Burris Is Sworn In". New York Times (New York Times Company). Retrieved 2009-01-15.