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Each House may . . . punish its members for disorderly behavior. . .

--U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2

What is "Censure?"

Although ill-defined, censure is a process of Congressional reprimand--the political equivalent of a strongly-worded letter. In 1834, a Whig Senate "censured" Democratic President Andrew Jackson in retaliation for his withholding documents. Three years later, a Democratic Senate "expunged" the censure from the record. However, that act of censure had no basis in either the Constitution or the Rules of the House and Senate. This remains true today. Ordinarily, Congressional disapproval of the President is relayed either through its legislative power including the veto override power or through impeachment.

Presumably, censure of the President would take the form of a resolution adopted by both the House and Senate and then publicly announced. Legally, the resolution would have no effect. Censure derives from the formal condemnation by either the House or the Senate in rebuke of a Member of their own body. After a majority vote, the Member is publicly denounced, but still retains the position of Representative or Senator. However, the House removes the offending Member from any leadership positions in committees or sub-committees.

Probable Censure Procedure [from C-SPAN]

  1. A resolution censuring the President is not contemplated by the rules of the House. This means it has no inherent privilege; it is not a question of the privileges of the House, nor is it a matter of personal privilege. Thus, there is no framework for considering it.
  2. A special rule from the House Rules Committee would be required for its floor consideration and to set debate parameters.
  3. A censure resolution could be drafted, considered, and then reported from the House Judiciary Committee, or
  4. A censure resolution could be introduced and taken up immediately under the auspices of a special rule from the House Rules Committee, or
  5. A censure resolution could be introduced by an individual Member, and referred to the House Judiciary Committee for its consideration.
  6. In the Senate, a censure resolution could be introduced and would be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, or
  7. The Senate Judiciary Committee could draft, consider and report out a censure resolution to the full Senate; or
  8. A unanimous consent agreement could be worked out in advance to introduce a censure resolution by sending it to the desk and providing for its immediate consideration.
  9. Floor debate and possible amendment of a censure resolution would most likely be governed by a unanimous consent agreement among all Senators.
  10. If there is a single objection to a unanimous consent agreement, the Majority Leader could move to proceed to a censure resolution.
  11. Adoption of a motion to proceed requires a majority vote, unless it is filibustered. In that case, a 3/5ths vote (60 or more) is required to end the filibuster.

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Prepared by Brian J. Henchey for the Legal Information Institute

   
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Updated September 28, 1998

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