Impeachment: Not Just for Presidents

By Dunn, Kenneth A. | The New Crisis, November 1998 | Go to article overview

Impeachment: Not Just for Presidents


Dunn, Kenneth A., The New Crisis


Though inherently political, the process doesn't have to be partisan.

WA=declaration of war and the impeachment of a President are the most solemn duties of a member of the United States Congress. Since the founding of this nation, only fifteen public officials have been impeached by the House of Representatives. Among these were a president, a justice of the Supreme Court, a cabinet member, a senator and eleven federal judges.

DIVISION OF LABOR. The House is given the "sole power of impeachment," according to Article 1, Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution, and the Senate has the "sole power to try all impeachments.'" Conviction requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate. In other words, the House is the prosecutor and the Senate is the jury.

So far, the Senate has convicted seven of the fifteen officials impeached by the House, all federal judges. Several others resigned before being impeached. The last President to be impeached was Andrew Johnson in 1868. The Senate failed to convict by one vote. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 prior to being impeached by the House. If an impeached president is convicted and removed from office, the vice president assumes the presidency by authority, of the 25th Amendment.

WHO AND WHY. The impeachment process in the U.S. Constitution is based in English law. The Constitution outlines who may be impeached as well as the grounds and the process for doing so. The President, Vice President and all civil officers-but not members of the House or Senate-are made subject to impeachment for "treason, bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors" by Article 2, Section 4. Congress is left to determine what a "high crime" or "misdemeanor" is on a case-by-case basis.

So how bad can it be? Now here's where things get sticky If the Senate upholds the impeachment-votes for conviction -"judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office," says Article 1, Section 7. But-and this is a huge "but" "the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment" after removal from office.

Plus, the thing about not being tried twice for the same crime doesn't apply. It's not double jeopardy to subject an impeached, convicted, and evicted officeholder to criminal prosecution because Congressional impeachment and conviction are not considered to be criminal proceedings.

THE PROCESS. The federal courts have consistently deferred to the legislative branch on questions of the actual process of impeaching a public officer. …

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