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Art. 1 Sect. 6 Cl. 1 of the Constitution states that

[Part 1] The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.

[Part 2] They shall in all cases, except

  • treason,

  • felony

  • and breach of the peace,

[Part 3] be privileged from arrest during

  • their attendance at the session of their respective Houses,

  • and in going to and returning from the same;

  • and for any speech or debate in either House,

  • they shall not be questioned in any other place.

Formatting mine

I am having a little bit of trouble understanding exactly what parts 2 and 3 are saying.

From what I understand, Part 2 is saying that a member of Congress cannot be arrested, unless they commit "treason", a "felony", or a "breach of the peace." Part 3, though, is really the part that I find confusing.

Is Part 3 essentially saying that a Senator or Representative may not be arrested except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace anywhere, or is it for a specific place?

Also, are there any real examples of a Senator or Representative committing a crime other than those outlined above?

  • The purpose of the first privilege from arrest is to prevent petty claims of criminal violations (e.g. a speeding ticket or littering or jay walking offense) to manipulate matters of great political importance. The speech and debate privilege is for purposes similar to freedom of speech and academic freedom/tenure - it allows legislators to speak freely. – ohwilleke Feb 14 '17 at 22:24
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Your parsing is incorrect. The semicolon after "from the same" starts a new clause.

It should be read as:

[Part 2] They shall in all cases, except

  • treason,

  • felony

  • and breach of the peace,

[Part 3] be privileged from arrest during

  • their attendance at the session of their respective Houses,

  • and in going to and returning from the same;

[Part 4] and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

So they are privileged from arrest while attending sessions, or while going to and returning from those sessions, except in cases of treason, felony, or breach of the peace.

As a separate privilege, they shall not be questioned anywhere (except in Congress itself) regarding their speech and debate in Congress.

But if they are neither attending, going to, or returning from a Congressional session, and the crime is not related to their speech or debate, they have no immunity.

Also, to echo user6726, the privilege from arrest while attending Congress or traveling is not the same as immunity. If they commit a crime on the way to or from Congress, they can still be arrested after they get home, and subsequently tried and convicted.

  • What kind of crime would be related to their speech or debate? – Daniel Feb 11 '17 at 19:08
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    Sedition, criminal libel, disclosure of classified information, etc. A notable example was in 1971 when Senator Mike Gravel obtained a copy of the classified Pentagon Papers and read them into the record of a Senate subcommittee. Revealing classified information to the public would normally be a crime, but under the Speech and Debate clause, Gravel was immune. See also Gravel v. US. – Nate Eldredge Feb 11 '17 at 19:15
  • @Dopapp Also, the immunity is total, covering both civil and criminal liability. You can’t sue a member of Congress for defaming you in debate, for pushing laws that hurt you, or for anything else involving their legislative actions. Members cannot be subpoenaed to explain their votes. In fact, any evidence about their legislative acts is inadmissible in court. – cpast Oct 17 '17 at 22:20
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    What about if Devin Nunes was obstructing justice in his capacity on the intelligence committee? – Alex Kwitny Jan 10 '18 at 23:38
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If a Congressman commits any crime, he may eventually be arrested. However, there are specific crimes which allow arresting a Congressman while he is attending a session of Congress, or going to or from a session, namely treason, felony or breach of peace. Many Congressmen have been arrested and convicted of crimes: as far as I know, this has never happened on the floor of the House or Senate. If a Congressman were to commit a felony, he could be arrested there. Prior to the Civil War, the House Sergeant of arms arrested Henry Edmundson for assault. Jon Hinson was arrested in 1981 while congress was in session, though not arrested on the floor.

In addition, things that Congressmen say on the floor cannot be used against them, thus they can slander anyone on the floor.

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