On July 24, 2002, the U. S. House of Representatives voted to expel James A. Traficant, representative for Ohio’s Seventeenth District, after he was convicted of racketeering, bribery and fraud. When a U.S. representative’s term is cut short and a vacancy occurs, Article I, Section 2, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that a special election be held to fill the vacancy. However, Governor Bob Taft announced publicly that he would not hold a special election to fill the House vacancy left by Traficant.
Taft cited costs, the difficulty presented by redistricting, and the short amount of time a new representative would serve as reasons for not holding a special election. The Seventeenth District was then left without representation for almost six months, until the November 5 general election placed Tim Ryan in office in January of 2003. Voters in the Seventeenth District went unrepresented in the House during such important votes as congressional authority authorizing the use of force against Iraq, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and several key appropriations packages.
The ACLU challenged Taft’s refusal to hold a special election. After being denied by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, the ACLU appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The single issue presented in the case was whether Article 1, Section 2, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that the governor of a state call a special election to fill a vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of the ACLU, agreeing that Governor Taft was indeed constitutionally obligated to hold a special election upon Traficant’s expulsion and that the Southern District Court had been wrong in denying the ACLU’s case. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Southern District Court’s decision and sent the case back to the Southern District Court, where the ACLU prevailed.
Volunteer attorney Scott Greenwood and then legal director Raymond Vasvari represented the ACLU in this case.
Read the brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.