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Censure - Noteworthy Censure Cases, Presidential Censure

congress washington public rebuke

A formal, public reprimand for an infraction or violation.

From time to time deliberative bodies are forced to take action against members whose actions or behavior runs counter to the group's acceptable standards for individual behavior. In the U.S. Congress, that action can come in the form of censure. Censure is a formal and public condemnation of an individual's transgressions. It is stronger than a simple rebuke, but not as strong as expulsion. Members of Congress who have been censured are required to give up any committee chairs they hold, but they are not removed from their elected position. Not surprisingly, however, few censured politicians are re-elected.

While censure is not specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the right to adopt resolutions, and a resolution to invoke censure falls into this category. The first use of censure was actually directed not at a member of Congress but at a member of George Washington's cabinet. ALEXANDER HAMILTON, Washington's treasury secretary, was accused of mishandling two congressionally authorized loans. Congress voted a censure resolution against Hamilton. The vote fell short, but it established censure as a precedent. In general, each house of Congress is responsible for invoking censure against its own members; censure against other government officials is not common, and censure against the president is rarer still.

Because censure is not specifically mentioned as the accepted form of reprimand, many censure actions against members of Congress may be listed officially as rebuke, condemnation, or denouncement. The end result, however, is the same, and to all intents and purposes these are censure measures. At the same time, each censure case is different, and those delivering censure like to have enough leeway to tailor the level of severity. Still, the prospect of an open, public rebuke by one's peers is painful even for the most thick-skinned politician.

FURTHER READINGS

"Congressional Ethics: Historical Facts and Controversy." 1992. Congressional Quarterly. Washington, D.C.: CQ.

Thompson, Dennis F. 1995. Ethics in Congress: From Individual to Institutional Corruption. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.

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