Impeachment as Congressional Constitutional Interpretation

By Katyal, Neal Kumar | Law and Contemporary Problems, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Impeachment as Congressional Constitutional Interpretation


Katyal, Neal Kumar, Law and Contemporary Problems


NEAL KUMAR KATYAL [*]

I

INTRODUCTION

In the past year, America experienced an intense constitutional debate waged in its newspapers, kitchens, and internet chat rooms. This debate was remarkable, and not only because a constitutional issue--the meaning of "high crimes and misdemeanors"--managed to capture the attention of the public. It was also striking because the constitutional argument took place outside of the one institution that many understand to be the primary interpreter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court. [1] For a textualist, this omission should not be surprising, as the Constitution vests the judiciary with virtually no function in impeachment. Yet the removal of the judiciary from impeachment highlights the ways in which our legislature is called upon to make interpretive constitutional decisions.

During the interpretive debate over whether to impeach President Clinton, Democrats in Congress accused their Republican colleagues of being inconsistent in their approach to constitutional interpretation (and vice-versa). The Democrats argued that "high crimes and misdemeanors" had a very narrow meaning at the founding of the Constitution, and the Republicans responded by arguing that they should not be hemmed in by a two-century-old interpretation of a living document. Consider, as one example, what Representative Maxine Waters said during the impeachment debate:

I am absolutely amazed at the liberal and loose interpretation of the Constitution that I'm hearing from conservatives. Usually, progressives are accused of loose interpretation and usually conservatives are considered to have strict interpretation of the constitution and law. But sitting in this committee, I have witnessed the most--the loosest interpretation of the Constitution, as my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have dealt with the meaning of high crimes and misdemeanors. [2]

The party of originalism had thrown in the towel, and all for political points to boot.

This essay contends that this attack on the Republicans was wrong. In defending the Republicans, I am not interested in their political motivations (if any) but rather the jurisprudential issues that their position raised. I argue that one can adhere to originalism in the context of judicial interpretation and, nevertheless, believe in a broader style of interpretation for the legislature. Originalism, as practiced in this way, is a doctrine that constrains unelected judges from an unduly free interpretive approach, but it does not preclude Congress from making constitutional judgments that are more flexible and nuanced.

At stake in this project is something larger than the debate over originalism. Constitutionalists have assumed, too quickly in my view, that symmetry should exist between the interpretive styles of the courts and Congress. This assumption, which I shall call the myth of interpretive symmetry, slights the many reasons why an interpretive method may work well in one area and not work as well in another. Instead of mapping out all these possible divergences, I illustrate the point with three examples: the roles of history, precedent, and moral philosophy. I show how, in each instance, arguments can be made to suggest that divergent institutional roles should be taken into account in formulating a comprehensive interpretive philosophy about the Constitution.

This essay largely concentrates on the first example, the role of history. It contrasts two prevailing theories of constitutional law, legal process and minority protection, and argues that implicit in each theory is an account of why the role of history might differ depending on whether the decisionmaker is the judiciary or Congress. It is well established at this point that the ultimate purposes of the Constitution will influence what style of interpretation is appropriate. What this essay seeks to show is that those purposes counsel different interpretive theories for different constitutional actors. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Impeachment as Congressional Constitutional Interpretation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.