One of the longest-serving and most influential members of Congress is going on trial before his peers on charges of ethics violations.

Without prejudging his case, the allegations against Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York City Democrat, are serious, and it is important that they will now get a public airing before the House ethics committee — and that Rangel will be able to defend himself there.

It is also a credit to Congress and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that this will be handled in a formal manner. Pelosi was quoted in the 2006 campaign as pledging to “clean the swamp” in Congress after a number of legal, ethical and moral charges had been credibly made against both Republicans and Democrats in office.

Rangel, who is 80 years old and who has served for 40 years, has been in Congress for longer than some of his colleagues have been alive.

He stepped down from the chairman’s position on the House Ways and Means Committee in March after the House ethics committee said he had violated rules involving accepting travel funds from corporations.

Ways and Means oversees tax law changes, and the allegations against Rangel include some that involve the nonpayment of fees on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic.

He is also said to have used one of the four rent-controlled apartments he maintains in New York City for his re-election efforts, a violation of House restrictions on campaign spending.

Ethics committee spokesmen said Thursday that Rangel faces multiple charges, although the specifics will not be made public until next week.

The charges are similar to an indictment and the hearing, which could be held in a month or two, is analogous to a trial. In it, two Democrats and two Republicans will present their case to a panel of eight other members, also evenly divided between the parties.

Possible penalties could include Rangel’s expulsion from office. The last such expulsion took place in 2002, when Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, was kicked out of Congress and sentenced to prison for bribery and racketeering. He was released last year and plans to run for Congress as an independent.

Rangel’s district is heavily Democratic, but he faces four challengers in the Sept. 14 primary, including Adam Clayton Powell IV, a state legislator who is the son of the person Rangel succeeded in 1970 after the elder Powell was himself expelled from office.

So, Rangel’s constituents will also have a chance to render a verdict.