CRS Annotated Constitution
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Clause 2. No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty–five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of the State in which he shall be chosen.
When the Qualifications Must Be Possessed
A question much disputed but now seemingly settled is whether a condition of eligibility must exist at the time of the election or whether it is sufficient that eligibility exist when the Member–elect presents himself to take the oath of office. While the language of the clause expressly makes residency in the State a condition at the time of election, it now appears established in congressional practice that the age and citizenship qualifications need only be met when the Member– elect is to be sworn.290 Thus, persons elected to either the House of Representatives or the Senate before attaining the required age or term of citizenship have been admitted as soon as they became qualified.291
Exclusivity of Constitutional Qualifications
Congressional Additions.—Writing in The Federalist with reference to the election of Members of Congress, Hamilton firmly[p.111]stated that “[t]he qualifications of the persons who may . . . be chosen . . . are defined and fixed in the constitution; and are unalterable by the legislature.”292 Until the Civil War, the issue was not raised, the only actions taken by either House conforming to the idea that the qualifications for membership could not be enlarged by statute or practice.293 But in the passions aroused by the fratricidal conflict, Congress enacted a law requiring its members to take an oath that they had never been disloyal to the National Government.294 Several persons were refused seats by both Houses because of charges of disloyalty,295 and thereafter House practice, and Senate practice as well, was erratic.296 But in Powell v. McCormack,297 it was conclusively established that the qualifications listed in cl. 2 are exclusive298 and that Congress could not add to them by excluding Members–elect not meeting the additional qualifications.299
Powell was excluded from the 90th Congress on grounds that he had asserted an unwarranted privilege and immunity from the process of a state court, that he had wrongfully diverted House funds for his own uses, and that he had made false reports on the expenditures of foreign currency.300 The Court determination that[p.112]he had been wrongfully excluded proceeded in the main from the Court’s analysis of historical developments, the Convention debates, and textual considerations. This process led the Court to conclude that Congress’ power under Article I, Sec. 5 to judge the qualifications of its Members was limited to ascertaining the presence or absence of the standing qualifications prescribed in Article I, Sec. 2, cl. 2, and perhaps in other express provisions of the Constitution.301 The conclusion followed because the English parliamentary practice and the colonial legislative practice at the time of the drafting of the Constitution, after some earlier deviations, had settled into a policy that exclusion was a power exercisable only when the Member–elect failed to meet a standing qualifications,302 because in the Constitutional Convention the Framers had defeated provisions allowing Congress by statute either to create property qualifications or to create additional qualifications without limitation,303 and because both Hamilton and Madison in the Federalist Papers and Hamilton in the New York ratifying convention had strongly urged that the Constitution prescribed exclusive qualifications for Members of Congress.304
Further, the Court observed that the early practice of Congress, with many of the Framers serving, was consistently limited to the view that exclusion could be exercised only with regard to a Member–elect failing to meet a qualification expressly prescribed in the Constitution. Not until the Civil War did contrary precedents appear and later practice was mixed.305 Finally, even were the intent of the Framers less clear, said the Court, it would still be compelled to interpret the power to exclude narrowly. “A fundamental principle of our representative democracy is, in Hamilton’s words, ‘that the people should choose whom they please to govern them’ 2 Elliot’s Debates 257. As Madison pointed out at the Convention, this principle is undermined as much by limiting whom the people can select as by limiting the franchise itself. In apparent agreement with this basic philosophy, the Convention adopted his suggestion limiting the power to expel. To allow essentially that same power to be exercised under the guise of judging qualifications, would be to ignore Madison’s warning, borne out in the Wilkes case and some of Congress’ own post–Civil War exclusion cases, against ‘vesting an improper and dangerous power in the Legislature.’ 2 Farrand 249.”306 Thus, the Court appears to[p.113]say, to allow the House to exclude Powell on this basis of qualifications of its own choosing would impinge on the interests of his constituents in effective participation in the electoral process, an interest which could be protected by a narrow interpretation of Congressional power.307
The result in the Powell case had been foreshadowed earlier when the Court held that the exclusion of a Member–elect by a state legislature because of objections he had uttered to certain national policies constituted a violation of the First Amendment and was void.308 In the course of that decision, the Court denied state legislators the power to look behind the willingness of any legislator to take the oath to support the Constitution of the United States, prescribed by Article VI, cl. 3, to test his sincerity in taking it.309 The unanimous Court noted the views of Madison and Hamilton on the exclusivity of the qualifications set out in the Constitution and alluded to Madison’s view that the unfettered discretion of the legislative branch to exclude members could be abused in behalf of political, religious or other orthodoxies.310 The First Amendment holding and the holding with regard to testing the sincerity with which the oath of office is taken is no doubt as applicable to the United States Congress as to state legislatures.
Supplement: [P. 111, add to n.297:]
Powell’s continuing validity was affirmed in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995) , both by the Court in its holding that the qualifications set out in the Constitution are exclusive and may not be added to by either Congress or the States, id. at 787–98, and by the dissent, which would hold that Congress, for different reasons, could not add to qualifications, although the States could. Id. at 875–76.
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