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Can Felons Serve in US Elected Federal Offices?

FILE - The U.S. Capitol building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 21, 2022.
FILE - The U.S. Capitol building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 21, 2022.

The criminal indictments facing former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump have raised questions about requirements and disqualifications for holding public office in the United States. Here’s an overview.

Can convicted felons be president?

There are few requirements to serve as U.S. president. According to the U.S. Constitution, anyone who is at least 35 years old, a natural-born citizen of the United States and a U.S. resident for at least 14 years is eligible to be elected president. Because the Constitution does not mention criminal records, a person indicted or convicted of a felony would not be barred from serving in the role so long as he or she meets the other requirements.

Can new presidential requirements be added?

Because presidential requirements are written in the U.S. Constitution, Congress cannot add more restrictions without amending the Constitution. A constitutional amendment is not an easy task, requiring not only a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but also ratification by three-fourths of the country’s state legislatures.

Do any actions disqualify a person from being president?

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits anyone who has engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States from holding public office — unless that prohibition is overridden by a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress. The clause was written in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War and makes no mention of other crimes.

Have any U.S. presidents committed felonies?

No U.S. president has been convicted of a felony. President Richard Nixon was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in 1974 for his role in the Watergate scandal but was never charged with a crime. He resigned from office before impeachment proceedings against him began and was later pardoned by President Gerald Ford. Presidents Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have all been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives but acquitted by the Senate. The impeachments were not criminal charges.

Can convicted felons serve in Congress?

Yes. As with the presidency, the U.S. Constitution has set few requirements for serving in Congress. House members must be at least 25 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and live in the state they represent. Senators have similar requirements, but their residency requirement is extended to nine years, and they must be at least 30 years old. There is no mention of criminal records.

What about congressional rules?

The House of Representative has an internal rule that any member who is convicted of an offense that could result in two or more years’ imprisonment cannot vote or participate in committee activities. However, the privileges of such a member can be restored if he or she is reelected to Congress. The Senate does not have a similar rule. Both the Democratic and Republican parties can censure their own members in the House and Senate, including removing them from committees, as they see fit.

Are there any other restrictions on running for elected federal office?

The 22nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution limits a president to two elected terms in office. The amendment was passed following the 1945 death of President Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected four times, breaking a tradition of U.S. presidents stepping down after two terms. There are no term limits for members of Congress.

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