A day after Montana Republican Greg Gianforte won his state’s seat in the US House of Representatives, questions swirled about the fate of his term, before it even begins.
Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault on Wednesday after a reporter said he was “body-slammed” by Gianforte while the reporter tried to ask him a question about the Congressional Budget Office’s rating of the American Health Care Act.
Business Insider asked three legal experts this question: “Can Greg Gianforte legally serve as Montana’s representative if he is convicted for assault?”
According to Dr. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of UC Irvine’s School of Law, nothing in the US Constitution would prevent House Representative-elect Gianforte from serving, even if he were convicted of the misdemeanor assault. Further, “states cannot impose additional restrictions on eligibility to serve in Congress,” Chemerinsky said, meaning Montana could not enact legislation to bar him from serving in light of the alleged offense.
William Banks, Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs at Syracuse University agreed, but further clarified the terms.
Banks told Business Insider the US Constitution does not stop “a convicted member of Congress from continuing to serve, even for felony convictions, short of treason.” The only barrier Gianforte could face is if he is jailed for a term of two or more years. The charge he is facing in Montana, however, is punishable by up to six months in jail.
But if that were to happen, House regulations would bar Gianforte from participating in votes. If that were the case, he could potentially “lose committee ranking or chair positions under party rules,” Banks said. However, it is unlikely for Gianforte to be sentenced to two or more years in prison for a misdemeanor assault, so those terms likely wouldn’t apply.
A worst-case scenario for Gianforte would be being expelled from the House, which the House could do, following a two-thirds vote. However, Dr. Jon Michaels, a law professor at UCLA, told Business Insider the two-thirds vote has happened “incredibly infrequently,” and “mostly around the Civil War and surrounding questions of loyalty to the Union.”
Gianforte is expected to appear in Montana court by June 7th.