Qualifications for House Members

     You know that there are- 435 members of the House of Representatives, and that each one of them had to win an election to get there. Each one of them also had to meet two quite different sets of qualifications to win office: the formal qualifications for membership in the House set out in the Constitution and a number of informal qualifications imposed by the realities of politics.


Formal Qualifications- The Constitution says that a member of the House:

(1) must be at least 25 years of age,

(2) must have been a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and

(3) must be an inhabitant of the State from which he or she is elected.

     Longstanding custom, not the Constitution, also requires that a representative must live in the district he or she represents. The custom is based on the belief that the legislator should be closely familiar with the locale he or she repre­sents, its people, and its problems. Rarely, then, does a district choose an outsider to represent it.

     The Constitution makes the House "the judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members. " Thus, when the right of a member-elect to be seated is challenged, the House has the power to decide the matter. Challenges are rarely successful.

The House may refuse to seat a member ­elect by majority vote. It may also "punish its Members for disorderly Behavior" by majority vote, and "with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member. "

Historically, the House viewed its power to judge the qualifications of members-elect as the power to impose additional standards. It did so several times. In 1900 it refused to seat Brigham H. Roberts of Utah because he was a polygamist ­that is, he had more than one wife. In Powell v. McCormack, 1969, however, the Supreme Court held that the House could not exclude a member­ elect who meets the Constitution's standards of age, citizenship, and residence. The House has not excluded anyone since that decision.

Informal Qualifications- The realities of politics produce a number of infor­mal qualifications for membership in the House ­beyond those qualifications set out in the Constitution. These additional qualifications vary somewhat from time to time and from State to State, and sometimes from one congressional dis­trict to another within the same State. Informal qualifications have to do with a candidate's -vote-getting- abilities. They include such factors as party identification, name famil­iarity, gender, ethnic characteristics, and political experience. The "right" combination of these factors will help a candidate win nomination and then election to the House. The "wrong" ones, however, will almost certainly spell defeat.

Qualifications for Senators

A Senator must meet a higher level of qualifications than those the Constitution sets up for a member of the House.

      1. A Senator must be at least 30 years old

      2.  A Senator must have been a citizen of the United States for at least 9 years

      3.  A Senator must be an inhabitant of the State from which he or she is elected