On this record, Congress cannot refuse to seat Representative-Elect George Santos

Details about Representative-Elect George Santos’s biography have emerged, suggesting that the New York Republican has been, shall we say, less than truthful about his background. As the New York Post puts it, “Liar Rep.-elect George Santos admits fabricating key details of his bio.” These details range from his employment to his heritage. Open questions remain about his finances.

Some coverage suggests Santos may not (or should not) be seated in Congress. The Washington Post uncritically quotes a GOP donor: “But I certainly think that the leadership of the Republican Party has an obligation not to seat someone that is obviously totally phony.” Representative Eric Swalwell tweeted out to his followers, “RT if he should be banned from taking the oath for Congress.”

But the New York Times has the right coverage so far:

Yet even as Mr. Santos, whose victory helped Republicans secure a narrow majority in the next House of Representatives, admitted to some fabrication, his actions will likely not prevent him from being seated in Congress.

. . .

The House can only prevent candidates from taking office if they violate the Constitution’s age, citizenship and state residency requirements. Once he has been seated, however, Mr. Santos could face ethics investigations, legal experts have said.

Powell v. McCormack is precisely on point, as the Supreme Court handled a similar situation of Congress refusing to seat a member for, shall we say, the House’s distaste for some of Powell’s extracurricular activities. Ethics investigations after he’s seated? Sure thing. But seat him Congress must.

The Senate very briefly flirted with blocking Roland Burris in similar circumstances in 2009, pushing against his appointment and blocking him briefly for lacking the formal paperwork to be seated before finally seating him.

Other members of Congress have been cagey about whether to seat Santos, either refusing to address the issue directly or turning the question of seating into one more about caucusing. But unless some news arises that, say, Santos wasn’t an inhabitant of New York on Election Day or that his timeline of age or citizenship is in question, Congress cannot refuse to seat him.

Share this: