Felons in the Senate?


Senator Ted Stevens’ conviction today on seven counts of filing false financial reports with the U.S. Senate raises an interesting question. According to The New York Times report, this throws the senator’s re-election bid into some doubt. On the other hand, should the voters of Alaska decide the 84-year-old Stevens deserves an eighth term, there is nothing in the Senate’s rules that would forbid him from being sworn in as a full-fledged member of the 111th Congress.

Apart from Mark Twain’s quip (“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress”), this is no laughing matter. I don’t want to prejudge the outcome of Stevens’s inevitable appeal from today’s conviction, but apart from a successful appeal, the only thing standing between Stevens and six more years is a two-thirds vote of the Senate to expel the member.

I can imagine felons who probably should not be disqualified from serving — no moral turpitude involved, they’ve paid their debt to society — but I’d have thought the Senate itself would draw the line at someone who has betrayed the public trust or otherwise dishonored the office he holds. Soon it may be up to the Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics to do the right thing.

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