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How can a lawmaker be removed from office?

What are the steps to remove a lawmaker from office?
What are the steps to remove a lawmaker from office? 02:32

MINNEAPOLIS — From drama involving Democratic Minnesota state Sen. Nicole Mitchell to now-former Republican Congressman George Santos, we've recently seen the flames of expulsion being fanned. 

Santos is the most recent example of a lawmaker being voted out of office by their peers.

"This is rare, incredibly rare," said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University. "There's only been about six or so individuals ever expelled from the (House of Representatives)."

Rep. James Traficant (2002) and Rep. Michael Myers (1980) were expelled after being convicted of charges including bribery.

The three other house members were booted during the Civil War for disloyalty to the union. Fifteen U.S. senators have been expelled, 14 of whom were also Civil War-related.

The U.S. Constitution grants each house of Congress the power to "punish its members for disorderly behavior" and with a two-thirds vote, expel them.

The rule mirrors Article IV, section 7 of the Minnesota Constitution, but with greater rarity.  

George Santos CBS

"In the entire history of the Minnesota legislature, there's no recorded instance of anybody having been expelled from either the House or the Senate," Schultz said.

There have been attempts to expel members in the state, but each time a two-thirds majority vote wasn't reached.

Another way to remove a lawmaker is to put the decision up to voters in a recall election, which can be prompted by a criminal conviction while in office.

A recall petition is made for voters in the lawmaker's district. It must then be signed by at least 25% of the number of votes cast for the respective office in the most recent election. If approved, a recall election is scheduled.

Are there other, smaller ways to punish beyond expulsion or recall? Yes, said Schultz, citing censure as an example. A censure is when members vote to condemn a lawmaker's actions, but there's no actual punishment. It's like a symbolic slap on the wrist.

Other ideas include removing a lawmaker from their committee assignments and caucus meetings, which is what's happened to DFL Sen. Nicole Mitchell, who faces burglary charges.

Lawmakers have also filed an ethics complaint against Mitchell. A committee will consider the complaint on May 7.

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