This week’s post deals with some more logistical rules for Congress. Let’s begin with the text of Article 1, Section 5:
“Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.”
“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”
“Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.”
“Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.”
The first paragraph of this article is known as the “Qualifications and Quorum Clause.” This clause states that each House in Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) is to set its own rules regarding its members. They are also solely responsible for implementing penalties for absent members, in order to compel that member to attend. For example, neither the President, nor the Supreme Court, nor even the House of Representatives can make a rule regarding the election of Senators; that is solely the responsibility of the Senate. This clause was instated to protect the sanctity, accountability, and efficacy of each house, and was intended to reinforce the separation of powers. Joseph Story, (1779-1845) an American lawyer and statesman and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, said the following in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States:
“If lodged in any other, than the legislative body itself, its independence, its purity, and even its existence and action may be destroyed, or put into imminent danger. No other body, but itself, can have the same motives to preserve and perpetuate these attributes; no other body can be so perpetually watchful to guard its own rights and privileges from infringement, to purify and vindicate its own character, and to preserve the rights, and sustain the free choice of its constituents.”
Under this clause, a simple majority of each branch is enough to allow that branch to conduct their usual proceedings. The adjournment of a smaller portion of a House allows for their business to be kept up without too much interruption. That way, that particular House doesn’t have to continually call a quorum.
The last part of this clause allows each branch of Congress to lay penalties on members that are unnecessarily absent. This was done to prevent abuse of the Quorum rule by a tyrannical majority. For example, without this rule, a majority could intentionally remain absent, thus preventing Congressional business. Under such circumstances, only the legislation that the majority desired would even be considered. It would then become necessary to “compel” them to attend.
The second paragraph is known as the “Rules and Expulsion Clause.” This clause is similar to the first; it grants the power to make the rules of proceedings only to the House to which those rules will apply. Again, this was done, in large part, to preserve the separation of powers.
This clause also allows each House of Congress the power to remove their members from office upon a two-thirds majority vote. This is very important; it is the only way a member of Congress can be removed from office, as they cannot be impeached. For instance, the Senate expelled William Blount in 1797, and then inaugurated impeachment trials, but eventually voted against impeachment, on the grounds that the Constitution did not grant such power to Congress. Although there is an ongoing debate as to whether members of Congress might be included in the phrase “all civil Officers of the United States,” the historical interpretation has been that members of Congress are immune to impeachment, and may only be expelled.
The third paragraph is known as the “House Journal Clause.” Congress has consistently kept this journal, which has taken the form of the Congressional Record, as well as the House and Senate Journals. These records provide information on votes taken, debate minutes, and other floor action. At the discretion of the House or Senate, certain information may be kept from the journal, but this is not the norm.
The last paragraph of this Section is known as the “Adjournment Clause.” This clause prevents one branch of Congress from hampering the actions of the other, and ensures that the two branches operate simultaneously.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful to your understanding of the Constitution! As you can see, this Section contains very important provisions that help preserve our liberty, and we must be informed in order to protect them.
The Heritage Foundation, “Qualifications and Quorum”:
The Heritage Foundation, “Rules and Expulsion”:
William Blount and his expulsion:
The Heritage Foundation, “House Journal”:
House Journal site:
The Heritage Foundation, “Adjournment”:
Senate Journal site: