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Censure

Noteworthy Censure Cases

Among the best known censure cases in Congress were the 1811 censure of Massachusetts senator Timothy Pickering for reading confidential documents in Senate sessions and the 1844 censure of Ohio senator Benjamin Tappan for releasing a confidential document to a major newspaper. Perhaps one of the more colorful censure motions was the 1902 censure of South Carolina's two senators, Benjamin R. Tillman and John L. McLaurin. On February 22, 1902, they began fighting in the Senate chamber. Both men were censured and suspended for six days (retroactively).

Probably the most infamous censure case was the condemnation of Senator JOSEPH R. MCCARTHY (R-WI) in 1954. McCarthy took the national stage at the height of the anti-Communist movement following WORLD WAR II. McCarthy spent several years making claims that known Communists had infiltrated the U.S. government, and although he never offered proof of even one claim, his crusade was popular and powerful. Many Americans from all walks of life saw their lives destroyed in the early 1950s by groundless accusations of communist sympathies. His power unchecked, McCarthy became even more relentless, and in 1954 he openly attacked members of the Eisenhower administration in televised hearings. His colleagues realized they had no choice but to act. A censure committee was formed, and McCarthy as much as accused its members of being Communists. The vote to condemn McCarthy passed 65 to 22 on December 2, 1954.

Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) was found guilty in 2002 of taking illegal gifts and cash payments from a businessman and not reporting them. The businessman got help from the senator in LOBBYING the government. Although Torricelli denied the charges, his colleagues found the evidence compelling enough to "severely admonish" him. While not called a "censure," this reprimand clearly had the same effect. Torricelli, who was up for reelection, saw his popularity plunge in a matter of weeks, and on September 30, 2002, he withdrew from the race.

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