Powell v. McCormack Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 


Case Description 

Powell v. McCormack is a 1960’s government misconduct case filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Adam Clayton Powell, claiming that the House of Representatives unconstitutionally excluded him from the 90th Congress.

In 1969, Adam Clayton Powell and 13 voters of the 18th Congressional District of New York sued, alleging that House Resolution No. 278 violated the Constitution because it prevented an elected leader, Powell, from taking office in the 90th Congress. Powell stated that he maintained all qualifications necessary to become a member that were described in Article I, Section 5, and therefore, he was unconstitutionally prevented from taking office. Powell made other allegations including that the Sergeant-at-Arms refused to pay Powell his salary, that the doorkeeper denied Powell admission into the House chamber, and that the Clerk of the House threatened that he would refuse to perform services for Powell.

The House alleged that after an investigation of expenditures of the Committee on Education and Labor, it was found that Adam Clayton Powell illegally spent some of the committee’s money. Mr. Powell was then removed from his position as the chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor; the removal led to the suit.

The District Court dismissed the petitioner's complaint "for want of jurisdiction of the subject matter." A panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, although on somewhat different grounds, each judge filing a separate opinion. The Supreme Court later reversed these decisions and stated that the lower courts were in error when they dismissed the claims. It also stated that Powell was unlawfully excluded from the 90th Congress because he met all the requirements to be in that position according to the Constitution.