THE HOUSE of Representatives was right in expelling Rep. Michael Myers of Pennsylvania. Mr. Myers abused his office when he accepted $50,000 from FBI undercover agents a year ago. He got from his colleagues the punishment he deserved.
Mr. Myers and a few other members of the House argued that his expulsion was untimely and potentially unfair. The House, they said, should not act until the courts dispose finally of his bribery conviction. Otherwise, there is always the possiblity that conviction will be overturned and the House will then appear to have ousted an innocent member.
This argument is superficially so plausible that it appears to have been decisive in the Myers case for some members of the House who had also fought against the explusion of Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. two years ago. Mr. Diggs, you remember, in fact was allowed to serve until he had exhausted his appeals of a conviction for taking kickbacks from his employees. Then he was permitted to resign.
But the argument misses a critical point. Mr. Diggs was convicted less than a week before the 95th Congress adjourned. By the time the effort was made to expel him, the voters in his home district, knowing of his crime, had reelected him to the next Congress. Congress, in our view, should not turn away or expel a duly elected member, even a criminal, if the voters knew precisely what they were getting when they cast their votes. But the Diggs case will be a proper precedent only if Mr. Myers is reelected next month and returns to Washington in January.
Congress does, however, have a right -- and a duty -- to expel members whose serious wrongdoing is exposed after an election. That decision should not necessarily turn on whether the member has been convicted of a crime or whether that conviction is final. The ethics committee made a point in this case of basing its recommendation on what Mr. Myers had done, not on what the courts had done.
The defense presented for Mr. Myers before that committee simply underlined his misconduct. He had only acted unethically, not illegally, he argued, because he never intended to complete his half of the bribery arrangement. He was going to run after taking the $50,000, he said, instead of introducing the private immigration bill the money was supposed to buy.
Even if that story were true -- and a jury did not believe it -- it portrays Mr. Myers as a man willing to use his office to defraud those who sought his help. The House was right not to wait on the courts before expressing its condemnation of what he did.