Do congressmen wear their official pins?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 4 2006 6:16 PM

Capitol Police vs. Fashion Police

Do congressmen wear their official pins?

Download the MP3 audio version of this story here, or sign up for The Explainer's free daily podcast on iTunes.

The U.S. Capitol Police referred the case of Rep. Cynthia McKinney to the Department of Justice on Monday. The congresswoman allegedly struck an officer last week after he stopped her and requested her credentials. McKinney called the incident racial profiling and said the officers should recognize members of the House even if they're not wearing their official lapel pins: "It is true that at the time I was not wearing my pin. But many Members of Congress aren't wearing their pins today." How many members of Congress actually wear their official pins?

Most of them do—at least in the House. With 435 representatives walking around, it can be hard for staffers, lobbyists, and police officers to remember who's who. Even the members themselves sometimes rely on the pins to identify their colleagues. Each election cycle brings 30 or 40 (or even 87) new faces to the floor, and the pins help the veterans and the freshmen to get acquainted. The official Senate pin isn't as popular, since there's less turnover and fewer people to keep track of.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate


Each chamber has its own pin, and the designs change from year to year. In the House, the chair of the Administration Committee gets to choose the pin. * Some designs are more popular than others: Rep. Mark Foley told Roll Call he thought the newest design was "stunning. I didn't think much of the last pin and I didn't wear it often—it looked like it was trying to accomplish too much."

You don't have to wear your pin, but it's the best way to get past the security lines if the guards don't know your face. In the Roll Call article, Foley declared himself "not a big pin-wearer, I don't like to damage the suits." Cynthia McKinney has refused to wear her pin for more than 10 years.

When a member of the House retires—like Tom DeLay just did—he gets to keep his old pins but won't get any of the new designs. That doesn't mean DeLay will lose his access privileges. Under current rules, DeLay will get a special "former member of Congress" pin that he can use indefinitely. The representatives' spouses also get pins (of a different color).

Non-congressmen use one badge to get through security and another for floor access. The most recognizable senior staffers can slip past guards without their badges, just as many lawmakers get by without wearing their pins.

It's a fashion no-no to wear your badge when you leave the Capitol grounds—only a summer intern would do that. Pins, on the other hand, can be left on at all times. (The sergeant-at-arms does tell lawmakers not to wear their pins around town when there's a high risk of terrorist attacks.) In 2003, Rep. Mike Ferguson wore his pin to the Rhino Bar and Pumphouse in Georgetown. A few hours later, the pin ended up in the hands of college junior Michelle Mezoe. He says she stole it; she says he tried to use it to pick her up. She only returned the pin after Ferguson called the police.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks reader Mary Kay McCune for asking the question.

* Correction, April 6, 2006: This piece originally identified Rep. Bob Ney as the chair of the House Administration Committee. Ney stepped down in January and was replaced by Rep. Vernon Ehlers. Click here to return to the corrected sentence.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.