Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Impeachment: The Power to Fire a Terrible President in This Nasty Presidential Campaign, Both Sides Fear the Worst. but the Constitution Contains Clear Powers for Congress to Remove a Dangerous Chief Executive, If It Comes to That. Joe Smydo Explains the Procedure, and the Role of Federalist 65

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Impeachment: The Power to Fire a Terrible President in This Nasty Presidential Campaign, Both Sides Fear the Worst. but the Constitution Contains Clear Powers for Congress to Remove a Dangerous Chief Executive, If It Comes to That. Joe Smydo Explains the Procedure, and the Role of Federalist 65

Article excerpt

Assembled in a sultry Philadelphia in 1787, the founders' nation-building tasks included designing a system of checks and balances for the new federal government. They wrestled with how to reconcile differences between bigger and smaller states; how to address concerns of the North, the South and the emerging West; and how to keep the president, the nation's chief executive, in line.

For the latter, they wrote impeachment into Articles 1, 2 and 3 of the Constitution. Seldom used, it remains a vital part of the congressional toolkit - and should give comfort to those agonizing over a presidential campaign in which the candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, have accused each other of dangerous tendencies.

Should Mr. Trump try to suspend the Constitution, as some of his critics fear, or Ms. Clinton endanger national security, as her detractors claim she already has done, Congress has a blueprint for action: When the House approves articles of impeachment by a simple majority, the Senate holds a trial. If two-thirds of the senators present vote to convict on even one article, the president is immediately removed from office, with no avenue of appeal.

"Once it happens, it's done," said Michael J. Gerhardt, Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law and director of the Program in Law and Government at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

So important were the proposed checks and balances that repeated mention of them may be found in the Federalist Papers, the collection of 85 essays penned by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay to win New York's ratification of the Constitution. Federalist 51 addresses the "proper checks and balances between the different departments," while Federalist 65 and 66 address the Senate's role in impeachment and Federalist 69 mentions impeachment in exploring "the character of the executive."

The founders hoped that the threat of impeachment would be enough to dissuade corruption or criminal behavior, said Kevin Hardwick, professor of history at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. Though the founders could not have foreseen how powerful the presidency would become, they were well aware of power's corrosive qualities, Mr. …

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