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Can the Chairman of the House Budget Committee Preside Over the Senate?

Update: Professor Tillman responds in the comments

Professor Seth Barrett Tillman emails to remind us (among others, see Election Law Blog and the Originalism Blog) of his theory that the President and Vice-President do not hold “offices under the United States” within the meaning of the Incompatibility Clause, and thus that there is no constitutional prohibition on being President/Vice-President and a Member of Congress at the same time.

Just as he argued in 2008 that then-Senators Obama and Biden could remain in the Senate while assuming the presidency and vice-presidency respectively, he believes that Representative Paul Ryan could keep his seat in the House even if he becomes Vice-President.

I have three observations on the subject. First, technically I think that Tillman is correct in saying that Ryan could assume his seat in the 113th Congress even if he is elected as Vice-President. This is so because the Congress will be seated on January 3, 2013, while the Vice-President will not be sworn it until January 20. Until he is sworn in, Ryan does not have an Incompatibility Clause problem.

Second, although there is a Wisconsin statute that declares that if a candidate is “elected president or vice president of the United States such election shall void the candidate’s election to any other office,” this statute is probably unconstitutional as applied to election to Congress. Since Ryan has the constitutional qualifications to be a member of the House unless and until he becomes Vice President, the Wisconsin statute should not prevent him from receiving a certificate of election and being seated on January 3. Of course, it might be difficult to convince the Wisconsin official responsible for issuing the certificate of election (presumably the Secretary of State) of this.

Third, once January 20 rolls around, Ryan will have to decide whether he would rather be Vice-President or a Member of the House. This is so because (1) I think Tillman is wrong that the Incompatibility Clause allows Ryan to serve as Vice-President and as a Member of Congress at the same time; (2) I am quite sure that the House would think that he is wrong; and (3) even if the House were persuaded that Tillman is right, it would still exclude Ryan on the grounds that the duties of the Vice President are “absolutely inconsistent” with those of a Member of Congress (as it has done in the case of Members elected to state offices such as the governorship- see 6 Cannon’s Precedents § 65).

So I guess the question for Ryan would be: is a seat in the House worth less than a bucket of warm spit?

 

Tillman’s prior writings on the subject may be found below:

 

Seth Barrett Tillman & Steven G. Calabresi, Debate, The Great Divorce: The Current Understanding of Separation of Powers and the Original Meaning of the Incompatibility Clause, 157 U. Pa. L. Rev. PENNumbra 134 (2008), appearing at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1292359

 

Seth Barrett Tillman, Why Our Next President May Keep His or Her Senate Seat: A Conjecture on the Constitution’s Incompatibility Clause, 4 Duke J. Const. L. & Pub. Pol’y 107 (2009), available at http://tinyurl.com/4j5mjx

 

Saikrishna Bangalore Prakash, Response, Why the Incompatibility Clause Applies to the Office of President,                                4 Duke J. Const. L. & Pub. Pol’y 143 (2009), available at http://tinyurl.com/yglucrc “

 

 

One Comment

  1. Seth Tillman says:

    Dear Michael,

    I appreciate your fair-minded review of my work. Readers interested in the House precedent you cite can find it here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-HPREC-CANNONS-V6/pdf/GPO-HPREC-CANNONS-V6-11.pdf. The House relied on two rationales for its holding: (1) common law notions of incompatibility; and (2) the member-governor had submitted his resignation. This second rationale will not apply should Ryan actively seek to hold the vice presidency and membership in this House.

    As to the first rationale, the precedent you cite was from 1909. It predates Powell v McCormack, and US Term Limits v Thornton. My reading of these two cases is that they preclude common law notions of incompatibility or disqualification. And, I think the House would favor these more recent judicial authorities over its own earlier precedent. I do not suggest that the House is bound by Powell or by US Term Limits, but it is not bound by its own earlier precedent either.

    Seth

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