Stop Harassing Senator Packwood


The Rules Committee has scheduled a four-hour hearing tomorrow on excluding Sen. Bob Packwood from the Senate. It shouldn't take four minutes. It is absolutely, positively unconstitutional to exclude a duly elected person from Congress on such grounds as failure to tell the truth during a campaign. This is so obvious in logic, in the context of American political history, in the text of the Constitution and in light of Supreme Court rulings that to have a hearing on it amounts to harassment.

Mr. Packwood admits the main complaint -- sexually harassing women, employees and others, in his 24-year Senate career. He lied when he denied rumors to that effect during his 1992 re-election. Both behaviors were wrong. Most Americans believe and, certainly, most Oregonians, do, if the polls are correct. But elections are the proper device to deny unfit individuals high office.

Congress knows this. The House hasn't excluded anyone since 1967 -- an act the Supreme Court promptly overturned. The Senate hasn't excluded a duly-elected individual since 1867, when a Marylander presumed to be a Confederate sympathizer was denied his seat.

The only explicit constitutional qualifications for a seat in Congress are: minimum age, citizenship, residency in the state where elected, no simultaneous holding of another U.S. office and no record of rebellion or treason. These qualifications have always been regarded, in Alexander Hamilton's phrase, as "fixed and unalterable" except by constitutional amendment.

If the people of Oregon have as low an opinion of Mr. Packwood as polls suggest (20 percent positive rating), it's a shame they are stuck with him for six more years. Oregon is a recall state. The voters can oust unpopular state and local elected officials. The consensus of legal opinion is that recall states may not recall members of Congress, but the issue of whether recall is an alteration of the fixed constitutional qualifications has never been resolved.

This would be a good case to resolve it. Mr. Packwood's opponents at home should demand such a test case. The first step is a petition for a recall election. Hundreds of thousands of Oregon voters and at least five Supreme Court justices are more appropriate decision-makers in this case than 51 senators.

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