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The Expulsion Case against William Langer


North Dakotan politics in the 1930s were a whirlwind of controversy and acrimony as members of two divergent branches of the Republican Party fought a knock-down, drag-out civil war for control of state politics. Perhaps no politician’s career better reflected the nature of this civil war than Governor William Langer, a leading member of the Non-Partisan League, or NPL, a progressive wing of the Republican Party.

Leading the charge against the NPL and Langer was the Independent Voters Association, or IVA, which strongly criticized the NPL’s “socialist” policies and waged continuous war against the group throughout the 1930s. By the decade’s end, the IVA claimed victory, believing it had effectively undermined Langer, his allies and his policies in North Dakota. Yet in 1940, Langer, a twenty-five year veteran of political warfare, staged a stunning comeback, and in a bitter three-way race won a seat in the US Senate with only 38% of the total vote.

But Langer’s enemies refused to accept their defeat. Just before Langer took his oath as US Senator, his political foes filed a complaint against Langer accusing him of moral culpability and criminal action. The accusations were sent to a Senate committee and one year later the committee returned their report; recommending that William Langer be expelled from Congress. The committee argued that while Langer was technically and constitutionally eligible to hold his seat, his entire professional career involved so many bizarre schemes and acts of questionable morality that they concluded that Langer held a “continuous, contemptuous, and shameful disregard for the high concepts of public duty” and was therefore unfit for service in the US Senate

With Langer’s political future once again in doubt, debate of the committee’s report opened on this date in 1942. Despite the committee’s findings, the Senate as a whole was hesitant to unseat a Senator as a result of questionable morality and past criminal accusations. Langer’s allies in the Senate pointed out that Langer had been exonerated of all charges brought against him and argued that barring a Senator from his seat for “moral turpitude” represented an unlawful and extra-Constitutional qualification for holding Senate office. The Senate seemed to agree, appearing less interested in Langer’s checkered past and more interested in his Constitutional right to sit. In a 52-30 vote, the Senate decided William Langer should keep his seat.

Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall

Robinson, Elwyn B. History of North Dakota. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.
US Senate. "The Expulsion Case of William Langer of North Dakota (1942)." U.S. Federal Government, http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/expulsion_cases/123WilliamLanger_expulsion.htm.
"William Langer Papers: Biographical Sketch." University of North Dakota, http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/library/Collections/Langer/og19.html.