With momentum for impeachment flagging and some form of congressional censure looming as a possible alternative for addressing President Clinton's misconduct, impeachment's fans have begun arguing that censure is impossible. As Charles Krauthammer put it in a recent column on this page, censure is "an affront to a Constitution (and 200 years of constitutional history) that gives the legislature but one means -- impeachment -- of passing judgment on the chief executive."

At a political level, the argument is clever. If censure can't be done, after all, members will be forced to choose between impeaching Clinton and doing nothing, and those members who oppose removing Clinton from office will become a pro-perjury caucus -- or, at least, a soft-on-perjury caucus.

But on a legal and historical level, the argument is flat wrong. There exists no constitutional barrier to a properly crafted resolution of censure. In fact, the past 200 years of constitutional history demonstrate that admonishing executive and judicial branch officials is a power that Congress has both claimed for itself and exercised on numerous occasions.

It is certainly true that a congressional effort to punish the president by, say, fining him might violate the Constitution's prohibition against bills of attainder -- laws passed to punish a particular person without trial. But this constitutional restriction does not preclude all censures; it raises questions only about those congressional actions that have an actively punitive dimension. It is difficult to argue that a resolution that merely expresses disapprobation could be a bill of attainder. For one thing, it is not even a law.

Censure's opponents also argue that the Constitution gives Congress no express authority in to admonish officials of the other branches of government. This is true, but it also misses the far more important point that there is no constitutional prohibition of censure either. The authority to censure flows out of the uncontested power of Congress to express its views in the form of nonbinding resolutions -- a nonlegislative authority that both Houses of Congress exercise frequently.

As a Congressional Research Service memorandum notes, a House resolution during the 103rd Congress condemned "the racist, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic speech given by a senior representative of the Nation of Islam." It is hard to imagine that the separation of powers somehow renders presidential conduct uniquely off limits as a subject for congressional criticism.

Indeed, the absence of any express authority means relatively little. There is no explicit constitutional authorization, after all, for the courts to strike down acts of Congress, yet there is no serious debate anymore about whether the power of judicial review is constitutionally legitimate. As the Supreme Court held in the famed 1819 case of McCulloch v. Maryland, "there is no phrase in the {Constitution} which . . . excludes incidental or implied powers." The power of Congress to censure is an obvious corollary of the legislature's inherent power as a deliberative body to speak its mind.

And contrary to the current conservative line, this actually has been the prevailing view of censure since 1800, when the House of Representatives debated and rejected a resolution to censure President John Adams for having turned over a fugitive seaman to the British. As Post staff writer Walter Pincus pointed out in a recent article, the defense of Adams was led by a House member named John Marshall, who was later appointed chief justice of the United States. Marshall, of course, became there the father of much of American constitutional law. So it is worth noting that, while he opposed the resolution, he never challenged the constitutional authority of the House to pass it.

The Senate censured Andrew Jackson in 1834, although it later expunged the resolution after Jackson's allies gained a majority in the body. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, the House adopted a committee report in 1842 criticizing John Tyler for "gross abuse of constitutional power and bold assumption of powers never vested in him by any law." The House also adopted a resolution of "reproof" against James Buchanan in 1860 and then considered censuring him in 1862, after he had left office. Two censure resolutions against Richard Nixon were introduced. A Congressional Research Service memorandum cites 12 censure attempts against executive and judicial branch officials, of which "eight involved Presidents or former Presidents; 10 occurred before 1900; and five were successful." This memo notes, "In floor debates on censure resolutions, some opponents of censure have apparently contended that Congress lacks the power to censure non-legislative officers. In practice, however, the occurrences discussed here suggest that Congress has settled this question."

Congressional censure of a president is an inelegant remedy in the sense that the word implies the disciplining by a body of one of its own members. It also is a remedy that has been out of fashion since the 19th century. But all this does not make it unconstitutional. And when confronted by a field of bad alternatives, it makes no sense rashly to define certain options as out of bounds.

As Rep. James A. Bayard of Delaware argued in 1800, as summarized in the minutes of the House debate over Adams, there is "no doubt of the competency of the House either to impeach, to censure or to approbate the conduct of the Executive, and of course both resolutions were in their power." The writer is a member of the editorial page staff.