On a tangent to the initial question posed in How can a Senator be removed from office during a term for medical reasons? the possiblity that a sitting member of the Senate might be "impeached" has been suggested. The example raised was that of Senator William Blout. In the early days of the Senate (being only 5 years old at the time) When Blout's behavior was deemed 'actionable' the House voted to Convene Impeachment Hearings (7/8/1797 41-30 for). The next day the Senate "effectively" expelled him [sequestered], making any such House hearings irrelevant. The raises the question: "Can members of Congress be impeached?"

In the comments to the previous questions (growing ever more off-topic, thus this new question) @RBarryYoung posits that

"Congress determined some time ago that members of congress are not subject to impeachment"

How is this determination "Manifest"? Is it merely a "Rule of House/Senate" (each house may govern there own affairs, but still such rules are not necessarily "law". As we have seen those rules can be easily ignored at the convenience of the majority) Or did a bill get passed (and signed) exempting Congress from Impeachment? Or is it just 'not done' by tradition?

3 Answers 3


No. Their specific branch of Congress may expel the Congressman for any reason with a super-majority vote, which basically telling the people whom he represents, "Try again." There may be provisions to recall a Representative through recount.

Before the 17th Amendment, Senators could be recalled by the State Legislature for reasons that they didn't like how he was doing his job. This was back when the Senators were selected by the state legislature and not directly elected by the people.

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    Do you have a source for the claim that a recall was possible pre-17th Amendment? Such an interpretation seems strange because it would effectively render the 6-year term of a Senator moot, as a Legislature could both extend a term by re-appointing and cut a term short by recall. Why set a term length if the Senator serves at the pleasure of the Legislature? Moreover, it seems to be the case that a recall provision was explicitly considered and rejected when the Constitution was being written. E.g.: thoughtco.com/can-members-of-congress-be-recalled-3368240
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 16:33
  • Article One (pre-17) required the legislature of a state (if not in session, the governor) to appoint a replacement Senator to finish the term of the one that vacated the seat.
    – hszmv
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 13:30
  • @hszmv the statement in your comment does not support the proposition that senators were subject to recall by their state legislature.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 2:03

Actually your answer is incorrect. Senators can be impeached -- and have been impeached. The first (and as of now, only) senator to be impeached was William Blount in 1798. Per Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution, the House of Representatives has the power to impeach the president, vice president and any civil officer (which includes senators and representatives). There have been only 19 impeachments in our history -- 2 presidents, 1 senator, 1 Secretary of War (1876) and 15 federal judges.

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    Actually, it's not so clear-cut on Blount. The Senate had already expelled him prior to receiving the articles of impeachment from the House. After receiving these articles, they declared him to be unimpeachable, but it's unclear on whether their argument for this was because a Senator is unimpeachable or because he had already been expelled. However, some Senators seemed to argue the former as impeachment would otherwise impinge on the independence between the House and Senate.
    – Nelson O
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 20:06
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    The Senate has ruled that members of Congress are not considered valid targets for Impeachment specifically because both houses have their own means of expulsion via Constitutional Investment. Blount specifically set the precedence that any removal from office by other means functionally halts the Impeachment process, since Impeachment is only able to immediately remove an officer of the government. The Senate is considered the "High Court of Impeachment" which means it's rulings on matters of Impeachment are precedence setting for further cases.
    – hszmv
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 20:14
  • @David326 - Wikipedia suggests that the only (temporary) impeachment was in 1798: The House voted to impeach Campbell on December 17 [1798], but he was acquitted by the Senate on December 26. Also, ` On January 11, 1799, the Senate voted 14 to 11 to dismiss the impeachment, arguing that impeachment did not extend to senators`.
    – Alexei
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 21:32
  • @hszmv the senate can't stop the house from passing articles of impeachment a senator. They are basically just on record as saying they won't try such cases. Also, Blount set precedent, not precedence.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 2:06

Yes. If the House impeached a member of Congress and the Senate convicted the same member of Congress then who could rule them out of order.

Let us say Senator Jackass is impeached by the House and subsequently convicted by the Senate. Senator Jackass is unhappy about this and wants relief.

Only the Supreme Court can provide Senator Jackass relief by exercising its power to interpret the Constitution. However, the Supreme Court would probably be reluctant to intervene when clearly over 2/3 of Senator Jackass's colleagues clearly hate him. I can not image that over 2/3 of Senator Jackass's colleagues would vote to convict unless a clear majority of the population also hate him. The Supreme Court's power is not ultimate and it depends on the public's support.

If the Supreme Court openly defied the public in that way, the other branches would gain the confidence to disobey the Supreme Court. The impeachment and conviction of Senator Jackass stands despite Supreme Court orders to the contrary.

Furthermore, if the Supreme Court voided the impeachment and conviction of Senator Jackass, the Senate could use its power of expulsion to expel Senator Jackass, rendering the Supreme Court decision meaningless except as for allowing Senator Jackass the possibility of future federal office.

If the Senate voted to convict Senator Jackass and punish him with removal from office but not prevent him from future office, then why would the Supreme Court listen to Senator Jackass's case. They could only provide symbolic relief and doing so would be extremely unpopular.

If past Houses or Senates have decided members of Congress are not "civil officers" then

  • these decisions are not binding on future Houses or Senates; and
  • these decisions would not create anyone with standing to challenge them in court (No one has a right to an impeachment trial.); and
  • could simply reflect that the past Senate or House did not want to impeach/convict the member of Congress.
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    So, your answer comes down to: No, but they could 'get away with it' if they tried. Which is itself in utter defiance of the rule of law in a republic. And, how long of a list of examples of "The Supreme Court defying the public" is it going to take for you to realize that claim in utter nonsense. In fact it is fair to say that the purpose of the Supreme Court is to Defy the Public, because "popular" things get adopted by law and then overturned by the Court.
    – Cos Callis
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 14:56
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    @CosCallis There have been multiple Supreme Court orders that have been flagrantly ignored. Since the disobediance was flagrant and open, the Congress was aware but declined to take action against the offending President. The Supreme Court is aware that while their power to interpret the Constitution is in theory expansive, in practice it is much more constrained.
    – emory
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 12:41
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    @CosCallis Since Congress writes, enforces, and interprets the relevant rules; they could either get away with breaking the rules or rule themselves in compliance. It is like a dieter can add special exceptions to their own diet. If they want to eat cake, they can.
    – emory
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 12:48
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    I would certainly like to see a listing of examples you claim. Supreme Court orders are rarely ignored (at least without consequences) while the court has on MANY MANY occasions issued wildly unpopular decisions that are (often forceful) enforced. In the wake of Brown v. Board to Roe v. Wade the court has made terribly unpopular decisions that were (for right or wrong) strictly enforced.
    – Cos Callis
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 12:50
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    "Hate" is the wrong word here. Perhaps "lost confidence" would be better, considering that a "no confidence" vote is the official phrase for recall/deselection in some governments.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 23:24

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