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18. What is the size of the House of Representatives and how is it determined?

The membership of the House of Representatives is fixed in law at 435 Members representing the 50 States. In addition to the 435 Representatives, there is one Delegate for each of the following: the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa (each elected for a two-year term); as well as a Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico (elected for a four-year term). The Delegates and the Resident Commissioner can sponsor legislation and vote in committees, but not in the House Chamber.

The Constitution entitles each State to at least one Representative. Beyond this minimum, Representatives are apportioned among the States according to population. Population figures used for apportionment are determined on the basis of each 10-year census. (Following the 1990 census, the average district size was about 570,000 people). Since 1941, Congress has used the method of "equal proportions" to calculate actual apportionment, in order to minimize the differences in district populations among the States. 19. Who defines the congressional districts-the Federal Government or the States?

Congress fixes the size of the House of Representatives, and the procedure for apportioning the number of Representatives among the States, and the States themselves proceed from there. State legislatures pass laws defining the physical boundaries of congressional districts, within certain constraints established by Congress and the Supreme Court (through its reapportionment and redistricting rulings). Each State is apportioned its number of Representatives by means of the Department of Commerce's decennial


In the very early years of the Republic, most States elected their Representatives at large. The practice of dividing a State into districts, however, was soon instituted. Congress later required that Representatives be elected from "districts composed of a contiguous and compact territory," but this requirement is no longer in Federal law.

The redistricting process has always been provided for by State law, but Congress can choose to exercise greater authority over redistricting. In 1967, for example, Congress by law prohibited atlarge elections of Representatives in all States entitled to more than one Representative. Today, all States with more than one Representative must elect their Representatives from single-Member districts.

20. What is a Member of Congress?

A Member of Congress is a person serving in the Senate or the House of Representatives. A Member of the Senate is referred to as Senator, and a Member of the House of Representatives, as Representative or Congressman or Congresswoman.

21. What is a Delegate or Resident Commissioner, as distinguished from a Representative?

The office of Delegate was established by ordinance from the Continental Congress (1774-89) and confirmed by a law of Congress. From the beginning of the Republic, accordingly, the House of Representatives has admitted Delegates from Territories or districts organized by law. Delegates and Resident Commissioners may participate in House debate but they are not permitted to vote on the floor. All serve on committees of the House and possess powers and privileges equal to other Members in committee, including the right to vote in committee. Currently, there are four Delegates in the House and one Resident Commissioner.

22. What oath of office is required for Members of Congress, and when is it administered?

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution requires that Members of Congress, and all executive and judicial officers, shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support the Constitution. The oath of office is as follows: "I, AB, solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

Representatives take the oath of office on the first day of the new Congress, immediately after the House has elected and sworn in its Speaker. Those Senators elected or reelected the previous November take the oath of office as the first item of business when the Senate convenes the following January. Representatives elected in special elections during the course of a Congress, and Senators appointed or elected to fill a vacancy in the Senate, generally take the oath of office on the floor of their respective Chamber when the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate has received formal notice of the new Member's election or appointment from State government authorities. On rare occasions, because of illness or other circumstances, a Member-elect has been authorized to take the oath of office at a place other than the House or Senate Chamber. In those circumstances, the Clerk of the House or Secretary of the Senate sees to the proper administration of the oath. 23. In the event of the death, resignation, or declination (refusal to serve) of a Member of Congress, how is the vacancy filled?

The Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause 4) requires that all vacancies in the House of Representatives be filled by election. All States require special elections to fill any House seat that becomes vacant during the First Session of a Congress. Procedures governing vacancies occurring during the Second Session of a Congress differ from State to State, and are largely dependent on the amount of time intervening between the vacancy and the next general election.

In the Senate, when a vacancy occurs for any reason, the 17th Amendment directs the Governor of the State to call an election to fill such vacancy, and authorizes the legislature to make provision for an immediate appointment pending such election. Among the States, only Arizona and Wisconsin do not allow the Governor to make interim appointments, requiring, instead, a special election to fill any Senate vacancy. Prevailing practice in the States is that a special election to fill the vacancy is scheduled to be held at the time of the next statewide general election.

24. How can Members of Congress be removed from office or punished for misconduct?

It is generally understood in Congress that the impeachment process stipulated in the Constitution, which involves both House and Senate actions, applies only to the removal of the President, Vice President, Supreme Court Justices, and Federal judges, and civil officers of the U.S. Government, and not to the removal of Members of Congress from office. The Constitution states that "Each House shall be the Judge of the . . . Qualifications of its own Members . . . [and may] punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member." Thus, disciplinary actions taken against a Member are a matter of concern for that House acting alone.

Each Chamber has established a committee charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against its Members: the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the Senate Ethics Committee. The Rules of the House and Senate also contain a Code of Official Conduct. The ethics committees review charges against a Member filed by another Member or by a private citizen.

The most severe punishment that can be imposed by either the House or Senate is the expulsion of the offending Member. This action requires, constitutionally, an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Members of the Chamber voting, a quorum being present. Alternatively, the House may vote to "censure" a Member for misconduct. This requires only a majority vote, and, under party rules in the House, a censured Member automatically loses any committee or party leadership positions held during that Congress. In the Senate, the terms "censure" and "denunciation" are used almost interchangeably for violations of this magnitude.

A less severe form of disciplinary action in both the House and Senate is a "reprimand," again imposed by a Chamber by a simple majority vote. Typically, reprimands are reserved for ethical violations that are minor, or appear to be inadvertent or unintentional on the part of the Member.

Additionally, Members of Congress are subject to prosecution for treason, felony, or breach of the peace. Generally, when a Member has been indicted for a felony, a "leave of absence" from any party or committee leadership position must be taken so long as the charges are pending. Usually, the House or Senate will not initiate internal disciplinary action until the criminal proceedings against the Member have been completed.

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