With the nomination of Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, a noted QAnon supporter, in Georgia’s 14th congressional district, numerous people have asked if there is a way for her to lose, or if there is a way to prevent her from being seated. The answer to those questions is that there’s not much you can do now. Trump won over 70% of the vote in the district, so the primary is tantamount to an election. However, there are things that can be done once a member is seated in Congress.
People have suggested that the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi could just not seat Greene as a representative. This would be a very controversial move. The move is not allowed because of the precedent set by Adam Clayton Powell. Powell was a powerful Democratic Representative from New York City. He worked his way to being the chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor. As chair, he was increasingly criticized for wasting the committee’s budget and using public funds for personal travel. He was also accused of not living in his district in New York, but instead living in Florida.
Following the outbreak of controversy, the Speaker of the House, John W. McCormack, launched an investigation into Powell. This investigation was led by fellow New Yorker Emanuel Celler. The committee was focused on a number of issues related to his residency and conduct.
The results of the investigation found that he met the residency requirements for the state of New York. They also found that he had used the office to commit numerous offenses of financial misconduct. One such act of misconduct was using committee funds to pay the salary of a housekeeper in the Bahamas. Due to the investigation of him that occurred at the beginning of the term, the House of Representatives declined to seat him until the investigation was concluded.
Following the investigation, the House voted 307 to 116 to not seat Powell, and declared his seat vacant. Powell then ran for the special election to succeed himself and returned to Congress. He then filed suit in federal court claiming that the failure of the House of Representatives to seat him was unconstitutional. He argued he met the requirements to be seated in the House, and therefore had a right to his seat.
This led to the 1969 case Powell v. McCormack. Chief Justice Warren wrote the 7-1 majority opinion, concluding that Powell must be seated as he was lawfully elected.
Due to this precedent, Pelosi does not have the authority to refuse to seat Marjorie Taylor Greene. That does not mean that she is powerless.
What the Constitution Says
According to Article 1, Section 5 of the United States Constitution, “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” This means that Pelosi can recommend Greene be expelled, provided she gets Republicans to vote to expel. This is an extreme solution that has only been used five times in history.
The most recent was James Traficant, who was expelled from Congress in 2002 on a 420–1 vote. He was indicted on 10 counts of bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion. Ozzie Myers was expelled from Congress in 1980 for bribery charges connected to the Abscam scandal. Finally there are three others: John Bullock Clark, John William Reid, and Henry Cornelius Burnett. All three took up arms against the United States government and joined the Confederacy in 1861. Clearly, expulsion is an extreme measure and is not likely to be used, but it is something within the power of the House to do.
Another thing that Congress could do is a formal censure. Censure is common and is less severe than being expelled. It is a public condemnation of the conduct of the representative and an inherent threat that further infractions may warrant removal from office.
Historically, when a member of Congress has been censured, they are also removed from any committee assignments. They will retain their position and titles, but they will have no power in Congress, as most of the work is done in committees. This has been effective in getting members of Congress to shape up and can signal to districts that a person needs to be replaced in a primary. The most recent member to be censured was Charles Rangel in 2010.
Another example was the censure of Joseph McCarthy, which put an end to his public hunts for communists in government. He was never an effective Senator after censure. His former colleges avoided him and very few his bills advanced to the floor. This is something that I could see happening in the case of Marjorie Taylor Greene. All it takes is a majority vote in the house to strip her of her committees. That effectively ends any power that she has within the House of Representatives.
Looking to November
Barring a biblical upset, Marjorie Taylor Greene will be the next representative from Georgia’s 14th congressional district. Due to the precedent set by Powell vs McCormack, she must be seated if she meets all of the requirements for the House of Representatives. However, a two-thirds vote to expel Greene is sufficient to prevent her from being seated. Failing that, the House can censure her and strip her of committee appointments with a simple majority vote.