U.S. Senate has failed to seat an elected Southern senator before

November 14, 2017

Political pundits are discussing what the Republican Party should do about Judge Roy Moore, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate. One suggestion is not to seat Moore if he’s elected, which isn’t as outlandish as it may sound.

Seventy years ago, the Republican-controlled Senate refuse to seat Theodore Bilbo, who had defeated three opponents in the Mississippi Democratic primary and faced no GOP opposition in the general election on his way to what he thought would be a third term in the Senate.

Following his victory in the July 1946 Democratic primary, the Senate received a petition from a group of Mississippi black residents protesting the senator’s campaign tactics. The petition charged that Bilbo’s “inflammatory appeals” to the white population had stirred up racial tensions, provoked violence, and kept many black citizens away from polling places.

Later that year, two special Senate committees investigated Bilbo’s conduct. One looked into his campaign activities. A slim majority of that panel concluded that although he ran a crude and tasteless campaign, he should be seated. A second committee uncovered evidence that he had converted thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to his personal use. Both reports lay before the Senate as it convened in January 1947.

When it looked Bilbo would not be seated, Southern senators filibustered to delay the seating of the new Senate. A day later, on Jan 4, 1947, Senate Democratic Leader Alben Barkley broke the impasse by announcing that Bilbo was returning to Mississippi for cancer surgery and would not insist on being sworn in until he had recovered and returned to Washington. Bilbo died in August 1947, and his credentials were never accepted.

source: U.S. Senate archives

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