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Legislative violence

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Legislative violence

A political cartoon depicting Preston Brooks's attack on Charles Sumner, an example of legislative violence.

Legislative violence broadly refers to any violent clashes between members of a legislature, often physically inside the legislature and triggered by divisive issues and tight votes. Such clashes have occurred in many countries across time, and notable incidents still regularly occur.

Although the sight of brawling politicians is incongruous with a legislature's stately image, its occupants, like in any other workplace, are still prone to stress and anger. The confrontational nature of politics and the high stakes often add to the simmering tensions.[1]


  • Ancient Rome 1
  • Bolivia 2
  • Estonia 3
  • European Parliament 4
  • India 5
    • Tamil Nadu 5.1
    • Uttar Pradesh 5.2
    • Maharashtra 5.3
  • Mexico 6
  • Nigeria 7
  • South Korea 8
  • Peru 9
  • Taiwan 10
  • Ukraine 11
  • United Kingdom 12
  • United States 13
  • Venezuela 14
  • See also 15
  • References 16

Ancient Rome

Morte de Césare (Death of Caesar) by Vincenzo Camuccini

Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar was famously assassinated by a group of senators on the Ides of March, 44 BC during a meeting of the Roman Senate. The senators, led by Cassius and Brutus and calling themselves Liberatores, had conspired in secret to kill Caesar and considered various ways to do so. Ultimately, they decided to kill him during a meeting of the senate, since only senators would be allowed in the meeting and Caesar would be alone. The senators drafted a fake petition requesting that Caesar hand over power to senate; Caesar called a meeting of the senate to read it. When Caesar met the senators at the Theatre of Pompey, they stabbed him repeatedly with daggers concealed under their togas, killing him. Caesar's assassination lead to a civil war for control of the republic, ending ultimately with the rise of Caesar Augustus and the founding of the Roman Empire.


27 October 2007

In 2007 a fight broke out in the lower chamber of the national legislature of Bolivia, the Chamber of Deputies. The fight erupted during a debate over whether or not to try four judges on corruption charges.[2][3]


5 February 1929

During a session of the Riigikogu, the Farmers' Assemblies accused Minister of Education and Welfare Leopold Johanson of Socialist Workers' Party of accepting bribes. Artur Tupits of the Farmers' Assemblies then slapped Johanson in the face twice, until the two were separated. Disturbances continued on the next day. Tupits was then arrested for two months. His name inspired a new expression for a brawl in Estonian (tupitsat tegema, similar to the earlier expression tuupi tegema).[4]

European Parliament

In 1988 when Pope John Paul II addressed the European Parliament, Ian Paisley, then an MEP, denounced him as the Antichrist and was subjected to booing by fellow MEPs who also threw objects at him; Otto von Habsburg was among those who helped physically eject him from the room.


Tamil Nadu

In January 1988, there was a riot in the Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly over a vote of majority for Janaki Ramachandran, who was serving as Chief Minister following the death in December 1987 of her husband MGR. The ADMK party had split, with most MLAs supporting her and some supporting Jayalalithaa's bid to become Chief Minister instead. The Congress party with its 60 MLAs was able to play "kingmaker".[5] While the Congress-led Central Government in New Delhi ordered them to vote against Janaki, some Congress MLAs chose to resign instead, allowing the Janaki government to survive the majority vote. A riot ensued in the legislature, with members clubbing each other with microphone stands and footwear, which was finally ended by riot police who stormed the legislature and beat up everybody with their batons.[5] The Janaki faction was however dismissed by the Central Government under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution, having survived just 24 days in office. The state was placed under President's rule for a year, until the next scheduled state assembly elections in January 1989.

On 26 March 1989, a riot broke out in the state legislative assembly in Tamil Nadu between members of the ruling DMK party and the now-unified opposition ADMK party over the reading of the state budget.[6] In the melee, Durai Murugan tried to disrobe Jayalalithaa,[7] Karunanidhi had his sunglasses broken,[7] and the budget was torn up by angry rioters.[8]

Uttar Pradesh

22 October 1997

Riots broke out in the state legislative assembly in Uttar Pradesh with MLAs using microphones, chairs as weapons.[9][10]


10 November 2009

A member of the legislative assembly has been assaulted on 10 November 2009 in the state assembly. One of the members 'who can't speak Marathi' took oath in Hindi, one of the official languages of India. This was objected to by a right wing party Maharashtra Navanirmana Samithi, that wants Marathi to be the official language in the state. Four members of the Maharashtra Navaniramana Samithi were immediately suspended for 4years.[11]


1 December 2006

Hours before the scheduled Oath of Office ceremony for Felipe Calderón in the Legislative Palace, the legislature erupted in a brawl. It was the latest installment of the string of fistfights that rattled the Mexican legislature. The incident was broadcast on live television. In spite of such events the ceremony took place. Calderón entered the Congress chamber through a back door directly onto the podium, and in a quick ceremony took the Oath of Office amid jeers. Then, after singing the national anthem which silenced the opposition for a while, he took a quick exit rather than deliver his inaugural address to Congress (the traditional follow-up to the oath taking).[12][13]


22 June 2010

A fight broke out in the National Assembly of Nigeria after a group of members were suspended for accusing the speaker of corruption.[14][15]

South Korea

There have been several events of legislative violence in South Korea. However the politicians who were involved in the violence often don't receive criminal penalties under the civil laws.[16][17]

2 March 1998

During a vote to approve Kim Jong-pil as Prime Minister, Grand National Party legislators submitted blank ballots to demonstrate their disapproval. A fight broke out after supporters of the ruling coalition of Kim Dae-jung demanded that the vote be declared void.[18]

12 March 2004

During a National Assembly vote on the motion to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun, supporters of the President openly clashed with opposition MPs for 20 minutes in an effort to stop the vote (which was in favor of impeachment) from being finalized.[19]

22 July 2009

A brawl broke out as The National Assembly passed three bills that is set to reform the media industry. Opposition MPs blocked the Speaker from entering the room to pass the bills while both sides clashed. The bills were eventually passed by the Deputy Speaker.[20][21]

8 December 2010

A brawl broke out as the Grand National Party forcefully passed the year 2011 budget bill in advance without the presence of the opposition parties.[22][23]


The Congress of the Republic of Peru has been in many violence acts through the years.


When Peru had a bicameral legislature, member of congress Rómulo León (APRA) tried to grab and punch his colleague Fernando Olivera (FIM) because Olivera was accusing him of having secret bank accounts in a Swiss bank. He was suspended 120 days from Congress.

August 1998

After Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress and approved a unicameral legislature, Congressman Javier Diez Canseco decided to finish a heated discussion with a fujimorist congressman with a punch in the jaw. He was suspended 120 days from the legislature for the violent act.

26 July 2000

On the oath day, Congressmen threw coins to their colleague Roger Cáceres because they were accusing him of being a turncoat for moving to the government party Peru 2000. His son Roger Cáceres Pérez (also a Congressman) insulted the coin throwers.

August 2006

Congresswomen Nancy Obregón and Elsa Malpartida did not approve the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. For that reason, they tried to escape punching and kicking the Congress security. They were suspended 120 days from the legislature for the violent acts.

May 2011

Congressman Víctor Andrés García Belaúnde accused his colleague Luis Wilson of having members of his family working for a national hospital with high salaries. Luis Wilson started to defy García Belaúnde's accusations, then he went to his desk and started insulting and tried to fight with him, but his colleague's prevented it.


The Legislative Yuan of the Republic of China (Taiwan) is probably the most notable modern example of legislative violence. In the history of the Legislative Yuan, numerous violent acts have occurred during parliamentary sessions. It is popularly referred locally as "Legislator Brawling" (立委群毆). In 1995, the Legislative Yuan was presented with the Ig Nobel Prize Peace Award, for "demonstrating that politicians gain more by punching, kicking and gouging each other than by waging war against other nations." Listed below are the most current brawlings in the Legislative Yuan of Taiwan.

23 March 2004

A serious scuffle broke out between the ruling and opposition party members after an argument over vote recounts from the presidential election.[24]

7 May 2004

Legislators Zhu Xingyu and William Lai got into a brawl over legislative procedures. TV stations showed Zhu grabbing Lai and trying to wrestle him onto a desk. He then tried to headbutt his colleague before jabbing him in the stomach. The brawl resulted in having a traffic policeman called into the chamber to test Zhu's alcohol level, after he was accused of being drunk. The tests showed no sign of alcohol influence.[25]

26 October 2004

During a debate on a military hardware purchase ordinance, the opposition and ruling party engaged in a food fight after a disagreement broke out.[26]

DPP deputy Wang Shu-hui chewing up a proposal to halt voting on direct transport links with Mainland China.
30 May 2006

Amid a proposal about creating direct transport links with People's Republic of China, DPP deputy Wang Shu-hui snatched the written proposal and shoved it into her mouth. Opposition members failed to get her to cough it up by pulling her hair. She later spat the proposal out and tore it up. This is the third time that the DPP’s actions have stopped a vote over this issue.

During the incident another DPP member, Zhuang Hezi, spat at an opposition member.[27]

8 May 2007

Two dozen members overwhelmed the Speaker's podium, which became a free-for-all between the ruling (DPP) and opposition (KMT) parties with punches and sprayed water, requiring at least one hospitalization. The fight was over an alleged delay of the annual budget.[28]


27 April 2010

A debate on extending Russia's lease of the naval base in the Black Sea in exchange for cheaper oil descended into a mass brawl, involving smoke bombs, eggs and general fighting among members. The Speaker had to be escorted from the chamber, covered by umbrellas.[29]

24 May 2012

Violent scuffles broke out in the Ukrainian parliament on 24 May 2012 during a debate over a bill which would allow the official use of Russian language in certain parts of the country.[30]

14 August 2014

Two parliament members, Oleh Lyashko and Oleksandr Shevchenko, got into an argument on the floor. Shevchenko accused Lyashko, who had built an image as a combative opponent of pro-Russian separatists, of never having visited the separatist eastern region. The argument eventually led to Shevchenko punching Lyashko in the face.[31]

United Kingdom

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the government and the opposition are separated by red lines drawn on the carpet. The red lines in front of the two sets of benches are two sword-lengths apart[32] (or a little more than two sword-lengths apart[33]); a Member is traditionally not allowed to cross the line during debates, supposedly because the Member might then be able to attack an individual on the opposite side. These procedures were made because the Members were allowed to carry weapons into the House in its founding days.[1]


During a dispute over the conduct of British soldiers on Bloody Sunday, Independent Socialist MP Bernadette Devlin punched the Conservative Party Home Secretary Reginald Maudling. Her aggression was in response to the comments made by Maudling, who was maintaining that the British Army had fired at Bloody Sunday protesters in self-defence, contrary to the testimonies of civilian eyewitnesses (including Devlin herself). She argued that she was being denied the right to speak. Her actions resulted in her being banned from the House of Commons for six months.


In the aftermath of a rancorous debate with Labour MPs over the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, Conservative Michael Heseltine was enraged by a group who began singing The Red Flag. He seized the chamber's ceremonial mace and brandished it over his head, but was restrained by Jim Prior, and after his departure legislative action was suspended for the day.[34]

United States

February 15, 1798
Congressional Pugilists, a 1798 political cartoon depicting the fight between Griswold and Lyon.

Federalist Congressman Roger Griswold of Connecticut attacked Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon with a hickory walking stick in the chambers of the United States House of Representatives. Griswold struck Lyon repeatedly about the head, shoulders and arms, while Lyon attempted to shield himself from the blows. Lyon then turned and ran to the fireplace, took up a pair of metal tongs, and having armed himself thus returned to the engagement. Griswold then tripped Lyon and struck him in the face while he lay on the ground, at which point the two were separated. After a break of several minutes, however, Lyon unexpectedly pursued Griswold again with the tongs, and the brawl was re-ignited.

The two men had a prior history of conflict. On January 30 of that year, Griswold had publicly insulted Lyon by calling him a coward, and Lyon had retaliated by spitting in Griswold's face. As a result of Lyon's actions in that case, he became the first Congressman to have charges filed against him with that body's ethics committee, although he escaped censure through a vote in the House.

December 4, 1837

John Wilson, the speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives and president of the Arkansas Real Estate Bank, stabbed Representative J. J. Anthony to death during a legislative dispute on the floor of the chamber. [35] Anthony had suggested that bounties for the killing of wolves be administered by the president of the state bank, a responsibility comically beneath an official of Wilson's stature. Incensed, he drew a bowie knife and attacked Anthony, who was unable to defend himself despite drawing a knife of his own. Although Wilson was expelled from his office, he was later acquitted of murder. [36] [37]

May 22, 1856

Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina famously assaulted Charles Sumner of Massachusetts for a previous speech of his, saying his uncle Andrew Butler took "a mistress who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean, the harlot, Slavery."[38] After having consulted with fellow South Carolina Congressman Laurence Keitt on the situation, Brooks and Keitt decided that Sumner had the social status of a "drunkard" and was thus unworthy of the traditional challenge to a duel. Brooks (accompanied by Keitt), approached and confronted Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber. As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks began beating Sumner severely on the head with a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head before he could reach his feet. Sumner was knocked down and trapped under the heavy desk (which was bolted to the floor), but Brooks continued to bash Sumner until he ripped the desk from the floor. By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood, and he staggered up the aisle and collapsed, lapsing into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat the motionless Sumner until he broke his cane, then quietly left the chamber. Several other senators attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Keitt, who had jumped into the aisle, brandishing a pistol and shouting, "Let them be!"[39] Keitt was censured for his actions and resigned in protest, but was overwhelmingly re-elected to his seat by his South Carolina constituency within a month.[40] For several decades following, Senators often carried walking canes and even revolvers in the Senate Chamber, fearing a similar assault.

February 5, 1858

Congressman Laurence Keitt of South Carolina was involved in another incident of legislative violence less than two years later, starting a massive brawl on the House floor during a tense late-night debate. Keitt became offended when Pennsylvania Congressman (and later Speaker of the House) Galusha A. Grow stepped over to the Democrat side of the House chamber while delivering an anti-slavery speech. Keitt dismissively interrupted Grow's speech to demand he sit down, calling him a "black Republican puppy". Grow indignantly responded by telling Keitt that “No negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Keitt became enraged and went for Grow's throat, shouting that he would "choke him for that". A large brawl involving approximately 50 representatives erupted on the House floor, ending only when a missed punch from Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of Wisconsin upended the hairpiece of Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi. The embarrassed Barksdale accidentally replaced the wig backwards, causing both sides to erupt in spontaneous laughter.[41][42][43] Keitt would later die of wounds following the Battle of Cold Harbor while fighting for the Confederacy.[40]

February 24, 1887

The Indiana General Assembly experienced a massive brawl between Democrats and Republicans in the Indiana Senate and Indiana House of Representatives. The event began as an attempt by Democratic Governor Isaac P. Gray to be elected to the United States Senate and his own party’s attempt to thwart him. Gray was a former Republican who had been elected Governor by popular vote but was scorned as a turncoat by his new party, who maneuvered desperately (and unsuccessfully) to try to prevent his eligibility for the Senate seat. When Gray went over the head of the Democrats in arranging a midterm election for a new Lieutenant Governor, Republican Robert S. Robertson was elected with a majority of the popular vote, a situation the Democrats refused to accept despite a ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court. The matter came to a head when Robertson attempted to enter the Senate chamber to be sworn in and take his seat presiding over the session; he was attacked, beaten, and thrown bodily from the chamber by the Democrats, who then locked the chamber door, beginning four hours of intermittent mass brawling that spread throughout the Indiana Statehouse. The fight ended only after Republicans and Democrats began brandishing pistols and threatening to kill each other and the Governor was forced to deploy the Indianapolis Police Department to restore order. Subsequently, the Republican controlled House of Representatives refused to communicate with the Democratic Senate, ending the legislative session and leading to calls for United States Senators to be elected by popular vote.

February 20, 1902

During a debate on a bill dealing with the Philippine Islands, Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina accused Senator John L. McLaurin of South Carolina of "treachery" for siding with the Republicans in support of Philippine Annexation, and alleged that McLaurin had been granted control of government patronage in South Carolina. Upon receiving word of this statement, McLaurin entered the Senate Chamber and denounced Tillman, upon which Tillman attacked him. During the fight, other senators were hit by the punches. As a result, the Senate went into closed session to debate the matter. Both senators apologized to the Senate, but almost came to blows immediately thereafter. On February 28, the Senate voted 54 to 12, with 22 abstentions, to Censure both Tillman and McLaurin. McLaurin did not seek reelection, while Tillman served in the Senate until 1918.

June 7, 2007

During the final day of the 2007 regular session of the Alabama State Senate Republican Sen. Charles Bishop of Jasper punched Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron of Fyffe in the head after the latter allegedly called the former a "son of a bitch". The two were then pulled apart by bystanders in the room.[44][45]

June 15, 2011

During a vote of California budget state Assemblymen Warren Furutani and Don Wagner broke out in a fight over a comment Wagner made that Furutani deemed offensive.[46]


April 30, 2013

During a session of the National Assembly members of the government and opposition got into a fight. The origin of the discussion had to do with the rejection by National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello to give members of the opposition a right to speak. [47]

See also


  1. ^ a b "When politicians attack...", BBC News, March 23, 2004
  2. ^ "Fights in Bolivian parliament". BBC News. 28 October 2008. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Kähmlus Riigikogus" - "XX sajandi kroonika - I osa 1900-1940" (2002), lk. 319.
  5. ^ a b Both riots
  6. ^ Report
  7. ^ a b 14th anniversary retrospective
  8. ^ "ADMK members tearing the budget report to be read by the ruling party"
  9. ^ YouTube - Brawl In Uttar Pradesh State assembly , India
  10. ^ "Indian Government Ousts State Leaders". 1997-10-22. 
  11. ^ The Times Of India 
  12. ^ "Mexican Congress in brawl before inauguration". CNN. 1 December 2006.
  13. ^ "Mexican lawmakers brawl in Congress before Felipe Calderon takes oath of office". USA Today. 1 December 2006. 
  14. ^ "Corruption row sparks fight in Nigerian parliament". Reuters. 22 June 2010. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ `국회는 폭력 특권지대`…일부만 형사처벌 2010-12-08 Yonhap News
  17. ^
  18. ^ Kim, Y. (2011) The Politics of Coalition in South Korea. Taylor & Francis, p. 55.
  19. ^ "South Korean president impeached", BBC News, March 12, 2004
  20. ^ "S Korean politicians in mass brawl". BBC News. 22 July 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  21. ^ Evan Ramstad, SungHa Park (22 July 2009). "Media Reform Bills Ignite Brawl in South Korean Parliament". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  22. ^ GNP rams through W309tr budget 2010-12-08
  23. ^ South Korean parliament descends into mass brawl
  24. ^ "Taiwan leader denies vote-rigging", BBC News, March 23, 2004
  25. ^ "Taiwan politicians brawl over procedure", BBC News, May 7, 2004
  26. ^ "Taiwanese MPs hold a food fight", BBC News, October 26, 2004
  27. ^ "Taiwan deputy halts vote by chomping China proposal", Reuters, May 30, 2006
  28. ^ Taiwanese MPs in parliament brawl, BBC News, May 8, 2007
  29. ^ "Fighting breaks out in Ukraine's parliament". The Guardian (London). 27 April 2010. 
  30. ^ "Brawl erupts in Ukraine parliament over Russian language bill". The Daily Telegraph (London). 24 May 2012. 
  31. ^ "Nationalist gets punched in Ukrainian parliament". Yahoo! News. Associated Press. 14 August 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2014. 
  32. ^ "Foreign News: Off the Carpet". Time Magazine. 10 June 1935. Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  33. ^ "Foreign News: Renovated Bottle". Time Magazine. 6 November 1950. Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  34. ^ "Mace - Commons", BBC News, published December 22, 2005, accessed June 25, 2007.
  35. ^ Lindsey, William D.Religion and Public Life in the Southern Crossroads: Showdown States Rowman Altamira, 2005, pp.11
  36. ^ Williams, Joshua.Washington Arcadia Publishing, 2014, pp.14
  37. ^ | accessdate = February 19, 2015
  38. ^ Senate Historical Office. "The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner". Historical Minutes. The United States Senate. Retrieved March 27, 2010. 
  39. ^ Donald, David Herbert Charles Sumner and the Coming Civil War New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960, pp.293-96
  40. ^ a b KEITT, Laurence Massillon, (1824 - 1864)
  41. ^ Allan L. Damon (December 1975). "Filibuster". American Heritage Magazine 27 (1). 
  42. ^
  43. ^ Congressional Globe. 35th Cong., 1st sess. 8 February 1858. 603.
  44. ^ "Republican Punches Democrat in Alabama Senate Chamber". Fox News. 8 June 2007. 
  45. ^
  46. ^ Hanes, Kristin & Cox, Teri (June 15, 2011). "Fight Breaks out on California Assembly Floor during Budget Talks". KTLA. Retrieved January 6, 2012. 
  47. ^ "Venezuela MPs in punch-up over disputed election". BBC. May 1, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  • The July 8th, 2006 version of this article uses the translation of the corresponding Chinese-language WorldHeritage article.
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