U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 11 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 779 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

Powell from membership in the House, and declared his seat vacant. See 395 U. S., at 489-493.

Powell and several voters of the district from which he had been elected filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the House Resolution was invalid because Art. I, 2, cl. 2, sets forth the exclusive qualifications for House membership. We ultimately accepted that contention, concluding that the House of Representatives has no "authority to exclude 5 any person, duly elected by his constituents, who meets all the requirements for membership expressly prescribed in the Constitution." 395 U. S., at 522 (emphasis in original); see also id., at 547.6 In reaching that conclusion, we undertook a detailed historical review to determine the intent of the Framers. Though recognizing that the Constitutional Convention debates themselves were inconclusive, see id., at 532, we determined that the "relevant historical materials" reveal that Congress has no power to alter the qualifications in the text of the Constitution, id., at 522.

Powell's Reliance on History

We started our analysis in Powell by examining the British experience with qualifications for membership in Parliament, focusing in particular on the experience of John Wilkes. While serving as a member of Parliament, Wilkes had published an attack on a peace treaty with France. This

5 The Powell Court emphasized the word "exclude" because it had been argued that the House Resolution depriving Powell of his seat should be viewed as an expulsion rather than an exclusion. Having rejected that submission, the Court expressed no opinion on issues related to the House's power to expel a Member who has been sworn in and seated.

6 Though Powell addressed only the power of the House, the Court pointed out that its rationale was equally applicable to the Senate: "Since Art. I, 5, cl. 1, applies to both Houses of Congress, the scope of the Senate's power to judge the qualification of its members necessarily is identical to the scope of the House's power, with the exception, of course, that Art. I, 3, cl. 3, establishes different age and citizenship requirements for membership in the Senate." Id., at 522, n. 44.


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