Yes, Virginia — There Is a Santos Clause

All the falsehoods George Santos is accused of are small beer compared to the truth of his campaign — which is that the voters in his district decided to bring in a Republican to replace a Democrat.

AP/Mary Altaffer, file
The Congressman-elect for New York's 3rd District, George Santos, on November 5, 2022, at Glen Cove. AP/Mary Altaffer, file

It’s hard to recall a more delicious constitutional question than whether the Constitution would permit the House of Representatives to deny a seat to the newly elected Republican from Long Island, George Santos, for lying during his campaign. It’s a reminder of what a hard-bitten crew were the Founders who fashioned our national parchment and how determined they were to block the emergence of a king.

It’s not our intention here to defend Mr. Santos for what our constitutional correspondent, A.R. Hoffman, calls his “reams of fabrications.” Vox has a good summary. It says the Times found that Mr. Santos “apparently did not graduate from Baruch College, he did not work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, there were no records of him being a successful financier, nor were there of him registering his animal rescue charity.”

The Times, Vox adds, “also found that he had been charged with check fraud in Brazil.” Further, it adds, “a number of outlets have found no evidence of Santos’s repeated claims to be Jewish, to have Jewish heritage, or to be descended from refugees fleeing the Holocaust.” Mr. Santos had even characterized himself in a campaign position paper as a “proud American Jew,” though Jews themselves have been quarreling for centuries over who is a Jew.

All the falsehoods Mr. Santos is accused of, though, are small beer compared to the truth of his campaign — which is that the voters in his district, for their own good reasons, decided to bring in a Republican to replace a Democrat. The vote was part of a broader decision of Americans to revoke Democratic control of the House and hand the lower chamber to the GOP. Not by a wide margin, but all the more reason to mark the Constitution.

It says that each “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.” What, though, does that mean? The Supreme Court unraveled that knot in 1969, in a case blocking the Congress from denying a seat to the towering Harlem Democrat, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. The court, in a seven to one decision, narrowed the grounds on which Congress could act to enforcing the actual qualifications listed in the Constitution.

They are that “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.” Congress can enforce those qualifications, but little else. It can’t refuse to seat an elected candidate on the basis of lies he told — or even, for that matter, truths — or whether Brazil thinks he kited checks.

The point is not only logical but far-signed and typical of the Founders, who threw into the Constitution more checks and balances than any legal contraption before or since. Why? Our estimate is that they were scared of George III. If Congress could deny a seat to someone for lying, the controlling party could seize on practically anything to block those elected from the opposition party from taking a seat.

This is the logic of Mr. Santos claiming his seat, which he reportedly says he intends to do. Our guess is that he’ll fit right in with his colleagues in the House, which issues more lies in a minute than Mr. Santos tells in a month. This is no doubt one reason why Gallup finds the approval rating of Congress to be lurking at something like 22 percent. It’s hard to find in Gallup whose distrust by the people rivals Congress — other than the press itself.

The New York Sun

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