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Congress, qualifications for

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Description: The citizenship, age, and residence requirements for senators and representatives set out in Article I, sections 2 and 3, of the U.S. Constitution.


Significance: Although each house of Congress judges the qualifications of its members in the first instance, the Supreme Court has decided some important cases regarding congressional membership.


The U.S. Constitution establishes the qualifications for members of Congress. Representatives must be inhabitants of the state from which they are elected, must be at least twenty-five years of age, and must have been citizens of the United States for at least seven years. Senators must be inhabitants of their state at the time of election, must be at least thirty years old, and must have been citizens for at least nine years. Article I, section 5, of the Constitution gives each house of Congress the power to “be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own members.” Should a dispute about citizenship, age, residence, or election returns arise, the matter would be decided in the Senate or House of Representatives. However, when one of the houses of Congress goes beyond the constitutionally stated criteria, the Supreme Court's judgment comes into play. In 1967 the House of Representatives refused to seat Representative Adam Clayton Powell because he had misused House funds. Powell brought suit, arguing that the only role the House could play was to judge age, residence, and citizenship. In Powell v. McCormick (1969), Chief Justice Earl Warren, for a majority of the Court, held that Congress's power was limited to the constitutionally stated criteria, and that Congressman Powell was entitled to his seat.