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Friday, February 25, 2005

State senators ask Potts to resign chairmanship

From the AP:
In a two-hour closed-door meeting after the announcement, Senate Republicans voted to ask Potts to resign from the party and surrender his committee chairmanship and other committee assignments.

"Failure to do so will require us to consider future appropriate actions in accordance with Senate Republican Caucus rules and the rules of the Virginia Senate," the caucus said in a letter to Potts.

"I absolutely, unequivocally refuse," Potts told reporters. "It's my party too."

Potts said the caucus did not have the four-fifths vote necessary to oust him, even though the letter was signed by all 23 of his GOP colleagues. It would take 27 votes in the 40-member Senate to strip him of his committee assignments.
Here's where it gets tricky. The Senate Rules don't exactly speak to this.

Rule 8a states:
Should any Senator, however, during his term of office, cease to be a member of the political party of which he was a member at the time of his election or if a special election results in a change of political party membership, the Clerk of the Senate, upon such change in political party membership, is authorized to reassign chamber desks and office space accordingly.

Rule 20a states:
Should any Senator, during his term of office, cease to be a member of the political party of which he was a member at the time of his election, he shall be deemed, thereby, to have forfeited all Committee memberships to which he may have been elected.
If I understand Potts, correctly, he's denying that he's left the Republican party and is daring the caucus to kick him out. He hints that the number of Republicans who would have to vote to kick him out is 80%, or 19 Senators. Even if Chichester, Quayle, and Potts don't vote to do it, that leaves a one cushion margin. Stolle, Stosch, Norment, or Wampler could protect Potts, but they all signed the letter asking him to resign.

There's no need to take it to a 2/3 vote of the entire Senate. Either there are enough votes for the caucus to kick Potts out, or there aren't enough votes to do anything.


Anonymous The Jaded JD said...

This analysis is not quite comprehensive. Rule 8(e) states that party membership is defined by a senator's party identification at the time of his election to the Senate. There is no definition of how an incumbent senator "ceases to be a member of the political party of which he was a member at the time of his election." You need also to be aware that the Senate rules don't recognize the party caucuses as organs of the Senate; accordingly, action taken by the caucus to expel Senator Potts from the Republican caucus does not, without more, remove him from his committee memberships. (Caucus rules are confidential, and breaching caucus confidentiality is grounds itself for expulsion; if Potts leaked the 4/5ths requirement, he may be removable on that ground alone. Without commenting on the accuracy of the 4/5ths requirement, 4/5ths of 24 Republican senators would require 20 votes to expel, not 19. And, while you've named Quayle and Chichester as votes against, they also signed the letter demanding Potts's resignation.)

Senate Rule 20(a) does allow for a senator to be removed from his committees by a 2/3s vote of the Senate, whence the number 27 senators derives. However, there's an opening under the ambiguity of Rule 8(e) to allow a smaller number to effect the removal: since the rules do not make clear what "ceases to be a member" of his political party means, a point of order or question of the privileges of the Senate may be raised, requiring Tim Kaine as President of the Senate to rule on the matter. The ruling would, regardless of result, be subject to appeal and overturned on the vote of a majority of senators present for the vote. See Rule 49.

Finally, without going into specifics, the rules of the Senate Republican Caucus can be amended by a lesser number of senators than required to expel a senator from the caucus. But, again, even lowering the present vote threshold to ease the burden on expelling Potts from the caucus doesn't, on its own, remove him from his committees.

10:32 AM

Anonymous The Jaded JD said...

Senator Cuccinelli rose to a parliamentary inquiry this afternoon, inquiring of Tim Kaine what would be required to trigger Rule 20(a). Kaine wisely stated he couldn't evaluate a hypothetical or issue an advisory opinion. Had Cuccinelli made a point of order under Rule 44 that Rule 20(a) had been triggered, Kaine would have had to rule. And the ruling could have triggered an appeal under Rule 49.

Maybe someone can give Ken's office a call before the session tomorrow morning.

9:07 PM


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