The Washington Post reported Thursday that Alabama resident Leigh Corfman says Roy Moore — now the Republican nominee in a December 12 special election for a U.S. Senate seat from the state — molested her when she was 14 years old and he was 32.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, on behalf of all Republican senators, said that “if these allegations are true, he must step aside.” Some GOP senators, including John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, demanded that Moore leave the race without any conditional.
But what if Moore ignores them – as he clearly plans to do – and beats the Democratic nominee Doug Jones in four weeks? Will Republicans then be helpless, with no option but to look on as Moore joins their caucus and votes with them on their all favored priorities?
Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution states that both the House and Senate may “with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.” No specific criteria are named; the Senate can expel a member for anything or nothing, at any time.
And in fact, the Senate has previously expelled 15 members. Fourteen of them were removed for their support of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The 15th, William Blount of Tennessee, was removed from office in 1797 when – as part of an extremely convoluted moneymaking scheme — he encouraged Native Americans and American frontiersmen to attack Spanish Louisiana and Florida in order to force Spain to transfer their territories to the British Empire.
In addition, several senators have resigned rather than face certain expulsion. Most recently New Jersey Democrat Harrison Williams left the Senate in 1981 after being convicted on bribery and conspiracy charges during the Abscam scandal.
The Senate’s power to expel members has most recently been emphasized by Republicans, who have demanded that Democrats commit to voting out another Democratic New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, if he is convicted of federal corruption charges for which he is currently on trial.
All that said, if Moore is elected, the Senate would in fact have to seat him, if only for long enough to vote to throw him out. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that both the House and Senate must seat duly elected candidates if they meet the constitutional requirements to hold office. Moore would, since he is over 30 years old, has been a U.S. citizen for more than nine years, and is a resident of the state voting for him.
This was most recently a live political issue at the end of 2008 when former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was engulfed in a corruption scandal that eventually sent him to prison. As governor, Blagojevich had the power to appoint a replacement to fill the vacancy in the Senate left by then-President-elect Obama. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and all members of the Senate’s Democratic caucus wrote to Blagojevich demanding that he resign. If he did not and made an appointment, said Reid, the Senate would “exercise our Constitutional authority under Article I, Section 5, to determine whether such a person should be seated.”
But Reid was wrong: The Senate did not have such power. Blagojevich went ahead and chose Roland Burris; the Senate seated him and then did not expel him, and Burris served to the end of his term in 2010.
In any case, the bottom line is that Republicans don’t just have to politely request that Roy Moore bow out of this election. They can commit, right now, that if he is elected, they will expel him on his first day in office. And the party wouldn’t even need to be unanimous. All 48 Democrats can surely be counted on to vote to expel a Republican accused of child molestation. That means just 19 Republicans of the 52 in the chamber would be needed.
All senators should be asked immediately whether they will in fact use the power in their hands to prevent an alleged child predator from serving in their midst.