Last week, Rep. James Traficant Jr., D-Ohio, was convicted in federal court of 10 charges including bribery, racketeering, and fraud. Though free on bail until his June sentencing, Traficant will likely serve several years in prison. The congressman has vowed not to resign and plans to run for re-election in November. How will Traficant’s conviction and pending sentencing affect his standing in the House?
That depends on what his colleagues decide. The House Ethics Committee, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, could recommend the following options: reprimand, censure, or expulsion.
An order of reprimand or censure requires a majority vote by the House. Should the House choose to reprimand Traficant—an action that amounts to a wrist-slap—the procedure ends with the vote. If a resolution to censure is adopted, however, Traficant would be required to come forward to the well of the House and be denounced before the entire body by the presiding officer. Traficant would also have to remain (uncharacteristically) silent as the presiding officer read the text of the resolution to censure.
Expulsion would require the approval of two-thirds of the 435-member House. Any House member can go directly to the floor with an expulsion resolution, which must then be debated and called for a vote. Historically, these attempts haven’t worked—a resolution to expel is usually tabled and then referred to a committee. In most cases when a committee has recommended expulsion, the member has resigned before the House has voted to expel. The House has only expelled four members, the last in 1980.
For now, Traficant is still free to participate in House votes. House Rule 23 states that any member of the House convicted of a crime that could result in a sentence of two or more years of imprisonment should refrain from voting, unless found to be innocent or re-elected to the House. The Ethics Committee warned Traficant on Tuesday of separate disciplinary measures if he chooses to take part in votes.
What if Traficant survives discipline from both the Ethics Committee and members of the House? Even behind bars, he would retain his seat until his term ends early next year. But while in prison, he wouldn’t be allowed to participate in votes, as House rules prohibit voting by proxy. However, the ruling judge in the case could allow Traficant to remain free on bond during an appeal. In practical terms, his situation would be comparable to that of a member with a long-term medical condition or illness.
Even if expelled, is Traficant eligible to run for re-election in November? Yes—expulsion from the House doesn’t outlaw future runs for office. And under Ohio law, Traficant could even run from prison. (Though as an Ohio prisoner, he would be prohibited from voting for himself.) If re-elected to House, Traficant couldn’t be re-expelled for the same reasons. Should a committee or fellow member bring disciplinary measures against him, the same grounds cannot be used to expel him a second time.
Explainer thanks Jo Powers of the House Rules Committee and Ian Stirton of the Federal Election Commission.