Powell v. McCormack
395 U.S. 486 (1969)

  • Powell was a Congressman who was caught in a political scandal. The House of Representatives passed a resolution to exclude him.
    • The resolution wasn’t phrased as an ‘impeachment’, or an ‘expulsion’, and was passed with a simple majority vote.
  • Powell sued for an injunction, claiming that the resolution was invalid.
    • Powell argued that in order to expel him from Congress, the Constitution requires a 2/3rds vote. But the resolution to ‘exclude’ him didn’t garner that many votes. (See Article I, Section 2).
  • The Trial Court dismissed the case.
    • The Trial Court found that they did not have subject matter jurisdiction, and that the case was not judicable.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the case was judicable.
      • The Court didn’t invoke the Political Question Doctrine because they found that the case did not constitute a political question that pit one branch of government against another. Rather, it required “no more than an interpretation of the Constitution.”
    • The Court found that Congress being the sole judge of its membersÕ qualifications (Article I, Section 5, cl. 1) and the Speech and Debate Clause (Article I, Section 6) do not preclude judicial review of Constitutional issues.
    • The Court found that that Congress does not have the power to develop qualifications other than those specified in Article I, Section 2, cl. 1-2.
  • This case settled a contradiction in the Constitution. Article I Section 5 states that, “each House shall be the judge of the qualifications of its own members.” But Article I, Section 2, says that the House can only expel a member with a vote of 2/3rds.
    • The Court found that Section 2 is controlling, and Congress can’t change it, regardless of what it says in Section 5.
  • Compare this case to Nixon v. United States (506 U.S. 224 (1993)), where, under a similar set of facts, the US Supreme Court found that they could not intervene because it was a political question and therefore not judicable.