- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

The House of Representatives likely could not keep former Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. from reclaiming a seat in Congress if voters elect him again in November.

Wednesday night's 420-1 vote to expel the Ohio Democrat relied on the House's constitutional authority to expel unruly members.

But a 1969 Supreme Court opinion would bar Congress from punishing him a second time for what the court considers an offense against a previous Congress, either by expulsion or by the exclusion process applied in 1967 against Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., New York Democrat.

"I am running as an independent, don't be surprised if I don't win behind bars," Mr. Traficant said after becoming the second member to be expelled since the Civil War. He has filed to run in the newly drawn 17th District, despite his federal conviction for bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.

Any action by a later Congress would be barred by the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Mr. Powell's "exclusion" from the 90th Congress. The leadership had refused to administer the oath of office to Mr. Powell based on charges leveled in the previous session.

The court ruled 8-1 that Congress can only exclude an elected member who fails to possess the constitutional qualifications of being 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for seven years and an "inhabitant" of the state that elects him. It did not consider commission of a crime a disqualifying factor.

"A fundamental principle of our representative democracy is, in Hamilton's words, 'that the people should choose whom they please to govern them,'" the court said in an opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The 89th Congress had decided that Mr. Powell diverted House funds for the use of others and himself, falsified reports on his use of foreign currency (embassy counterpart funds) during travel abroad and wrongfully claimed immunity from New York courts on those charges.

Mr. Powell languished in Bimini in the Bahamas until the court's decision was handed down, only after he missed the entire two-year session. He was re-elected to the 91st Congress.

If Mr. Traficant were elected again, that decision would limit any further discipline against him unless he committed a new offense. It could fall to the court to decide questions about replacing him if he were in prison and unable to attend Congress.

"When the electors choose a person who is repulsive to the Establishment in Congress, by what constitutional authority can that group of electors be disenfranchised?" Justice William O. Douglas wrote in a concurring view on the Powell case.

Mr. Traficant's expulsion took effect immediately and yesterday he was stripped of cell phone, pager and all other congressional privileges. He returned to Ohio where his sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday. Federal prosecutors recommend he be given at least 7¼ years in prison. An appeal is expected.

At his small, corner office across the street from the Capitol, former staff members answered telephones "17th District Office."

House rules place that office under control of the House clerk and permit Mr. Traficant's five-member Washington staff and 16 employees in Ohio to remain on the job until Dec. 31 when his term would have ended, or until a successor is chosen through a special election.

It will be up to Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, to decide whether to call a special election at a cost of $800,000 or leave the post vacant until the 108th Congress takes office in January.

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