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ArtI.S2.C2.1 Overview of House Qualifications Clause

Article I, Section 2, 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 that State in which he shall be chosen.

The House Qualifications Clause set forth at Article I, Section 2, Clause 2 requires a Member to be at least twenty-five years of age, a United States citizen for seven years, and an inhabitant of the state from which he or she is elected at the time of election. The Framers designed these minimal requirements to give people freedom to choose the person who would best represent their interests in Congress. Explaining the impetus behind the adoption of these requirements at the Constitutional Convention, the writer of the Federalist No. 52 commented: “Under these reasonable limitations, the door of this part of the federal government is open to merit of every description, whether native or adoptive, whether young or old, and without regard to poverty or wealth, or to any particular profession of religious faith.” 1

When determining the qualification requirements, the Framers gave careful consideration to what the office required.2 The Framers reasoned that a twenty-five year age requirement would ensure that Members had sufficient maturity to perform their duties, while a seven-year citizenship requirement would allow foreign born citizens to participate in the government while ensuring they were knowledgeable about the United States and unlikely to be influenced by loyalty to the land of their birth.3 Finally, the Framers required Members to be inhabitants4 of the state from which they were elected so that they would be vested in representing the interests of the state. Discussing the residency requirements in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Justice Joseph Story stated:

The object of this clause, doubtless, was to secure an attachment to, and a just representation of, the interests of the state in the national councils. It was supposed, that an inhabitant would feel a deeper concern, and possess a more enlightened view of the various interests of his constituents. And, in all events, he would generally possess more entirely their sympathy and confidence.5

While Article I, Section 2, Clause 2 expressly requires state inhabitancy at the time of the election, Congress has interpreted the House Qualifications Clause to require only that Members meet age and citizenship qualifications at the time they take the oath of office.6 Thus, Congress has admitted persons, who were ineligible when elected, to the House of Representatives once they met age and citizenship criteria for membership in the House.7 Further, the Supreme Court held in Powell v. McCormack8 and U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton9 that neither Congress nor the states, respectively, can add to the qualifications stipulated in the Constitution for membership in Congress.

The Federalist No. 52 (Alexander Hamilton). See also The Federalist No. 57 (Alexander Hamilton or James Madison) ( “Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. No qualification of wealth, of birth, of religious faith, or of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgment or disappoint the inclination of the people.” ). back
See, e.g., 2 Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 215–19, 267–72 (Max Farrand ed., 1911). back
See Joseph Story, 2 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States §§ 616, 617 (1833). Qualifications for the Senate were more rigorous than those for the House. The Framers required that Senators be at least thirty years of age and nine years a citizen as well as a resident of the state from which they were elected at the time of the election. U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, cl. 2. The author of the Federalist No. 62 explained the difference in requirements for Representatives and Senators as arising from the nature of the senatorial trust, which, requiring greater extent of information and ability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages; and which, participating immediately in transactions with foreign nations, ought to be exercised by none who are not thoroughly weaned from the prepossessions and habits incident to foreign birth and education. The Federalist No. 62 (Alexander Hamilton or James Madison). back
The Framers adopted the term “inhabitant” in favor of “resident” because, as understood at that time, “inhabitant” would not, in the words of James Madison, “exclude persons absent occasionally for a considerable time on public or private business.” 2 Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 217 (Max Farrand ed., 1911). back
Joseph Story, 2 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 618 (1833). See also Edward S. Corwin, The Constitution and What it Means Today 9 (Harold W. Chase & Craig R. Ducat eds. 1973) (1958) ( “An ‘inhabitant’ is a resident.” ). back
See S. Rep. No. 904, 74th Congress, 1st sess. (1935), reprinted in 79 Cong. Rec. 9651–9653 (1935) (discussing provision’s grammatical construction provided for habitancy “when elected” and that Constitutional Convention proceedings indicated that age and citizenship qualifications related solely “to actual and not potential senatorship.” ). back
See, e.g., 1 Hinds’ Precedents of the House of Representatives § 418 (1907) (discussing John Young Brown of Kentucky, who waited over a year from the time of his election before taking the oath of office on account of the age qualification requirement); 79 Cong. Rec. 9841–42 (1935) (same); cf. 1 Hinds, supra note 7, at § 429 (discussing the case of James Shields of Illinois who was disqualified from his Senate seat on account of not having met the citizenship requirement at the time he took the oath of office). back
Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486 (1969). back
U.S. Term Limits, Inc., v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995). back