Sen. Stevens Guilty


Sen. Ted Stevens found guilty on all seven counts against him.

Contrary to rational thought, Sen. Stevens will not have to resign his seat in the Senate. On Nov. 4th, he will face the voters in his bid for reelection to an eighth term. They will decide his fate.

If Stevens were elected to an eighth-term, his future would still be in doubt. The last senator to be convicted of a felony was Sen. Harrison Williams. Michael Stern, in responding to a question I posed that, in light of the conviction, is no longer relevant, provides some excellent background on Williams’ case:

The most difficult issue is what happens if Stevens is convicted and re-elected. While the principle of respecting the decision of the voters would weigh heavily against expulsion, there would also be a countervailing tradition that Members of Congress, when convicted, normally resign their offices. If Stevens were not to follow that tradition, the Committee would have to face a serious question of whether to expel him.

The most relevant precedent would seem to be the case of Senator Harrison Williams, who was convicted on bribery charges in 1980 after being videotaped agreeing to accept a bribe during the Abscam investigation. The Senate allowed Williams to remain in the Senate for more than a year while he pursued post-trial remedies. Some Senators thought expulsion was too harsh a remedy for Williams’s conduct. Eventually, however, the Senate scheduled a vote on expulsion; Williams chose to resign before the vote. As Dennis Thompson notes, “even in a case of almost pure individual corruption, it took unusually explicit evidence and confirmation provided by a criminal conviction to bring the Senate to the point of imposing its ultimate sanction. In most cases the accused’s motives are less evident and his colleagues’ judgment less severe.” D. Thompson, Ethics in Congress 105 (1995).

Based on the Williams precedent, it seems likely that Stevens would not be expelled at least until he had exhausted his post-trial options. If he was at the point of actually going to prison, however, the Senate would presumably expect him to resign. If he failed to do so, at that point the Senate would most likely proceed to expel him.

The last senator to be expelled from the Senate was Sen. Jesse Bright of Indiana. Bright was expelled from the Senate for Confederate sympathy, recognizing Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy, and sending letters to Davis regarding the acquisition of munitions.

I’ll have more about Stevens in another post.