As I’m sure you’ve heard, there’s an impeachment trial in progress. This impeachment is for our current president, Donald Trump. Now, Lord knows I’m not his biggest fan, however, with all the hog wash being spewed, it’s hard to know who to believe, so I figured I try and figure this mess out myself.
My intent is not to go over the details of why he is undergoing impeachment, but to understand the impeachment process.
My first question: What does it mean to impeach someone. To impeach someone is to make formal charges against the impeached. Being impeached does not make you guilty of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors (which are the bar for removal from office). Only the Senate can find the accused guilty, and that has only happened eight times in our nations history to date, and they were all judges.
My second question is who can be impeached? As it turns out, the President, Vice President, and “all civil Officers of the United States”—which includes judges—can be impeached. Members of Congress (both houses) can be expelled by their own respective bodies.
My third question is who is responsible for what in the process?
House of Representatives: The House of Representatives has the responsibility and authority to determine whether to impeach an individual. Individual members of the House of Representatives can introduce an impeachment resolution, or it can be initiated by passing a resolution authorizing an inquiry by the Judiciary Committee.
The Judiciary Committee usually has jurisdiction over impeachments, and decides whether to pursue articles of impeachment against an individual, or not. The committee holds hearings, takes evidence, and hears testimony of witnesses concerning matters relevant to the inquiry. If the committee pursues impeachment, and the articles of impeachment are approved by the full House of Representatives (by a simple majority), then the House elects’ “managers” who will take the articles of impeachment to the Senate and act as Prosecutors during the trial.
Fun Fact: The House of Representatives has initiated impeachment proceedings over 60 times in its history, but less than a third have led to full impeachments. Of these, 15 have been federal judges, three presidents, one cabinet secretary, and one Senator.
Senate: Impeachment proceedings in the Senate are governed by the Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate when Sitting on Impeachment Trials. Pre-trail activities include issuing a summons to the respondent (accused), telling him, or her, the date they should appear before the Senate. The respondent may choose not to appear, in which case a “not guilty” plea is entered.
Trail procedures. Once the date is set for a trial, they Senate will order the House of Representatives to supply them with information regarding witnesses who are to be subpoenaed. The trail is presided over by the Chief Justice in presidential impeachment trials. In the Senate, the Presiding Officer has authority to rule on all evidentiary (questions relating to evidence) questions. However, any Senator may request that a formal vote be taken on a particular question. In the 1930s, the senate amended the rules to include “Rule XI” which allowed the Senate to set up trial committee to call further witnesses and gather evidence. This is a trial Afterall.
The impeachment trial opens with the House of Representatives’ managers presenting their first argument for impeachment, followed by counsel for the respondent. The House of Representatives managers also have the final, closing arguments.
Once the “case” is presented, the Senate votes. A two-thirds vote is required for conviction. If the respondent is convicted on one or more of the articles against him, or her, the Presiding Officer announces the judgement and the respondent is removed from office.
There is no vote for removal. Conviction equals removal. Once removed from office, the Senate may hold an additional vote to bar the respondent from holding an office of public trust in the future.
Fun Fact: The Senate has not adopted standard rules of evidence to be used during an impeachment trial. Another fun fact, the Senate does not have to vote on every article of impeachment.
US Supreme Court: The Supreme Court has decided it doesn’t want to review judicial impeachments, but the Lead Justice of the Supreme Court Presides over Presidential impeachment trials conducted in the Senate. The US Supreme Court would also be responsible for ensuring the standard of indictable crime was met.
My fourth question is what constitutes treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Treason: Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason
Bribery: Corrupt solicitation, acceptance, or transfer of value in exchange for official action.
High Crimes and Misdemeanors: This is where the wicket gets sticky. This phrase is not defined in the US Constitution, the phrase was adopted from the English practice of parliamentary impeachments, which appears to have been directed against individuals accused of crimes against the state and encompassed offenses beyond traditional criminal law. Generally speaking, this phrase encompasses three broad grounds for impeachment (which are not fully exhaustive, nor binding):
- Exceeding or Abusing the Powers of the Office
- Behavior Incompatible with the Function and Purpose of the Office
- Misuse of Office for Improper Purpose or for Personal Gain
My references used include:
Senate links to impeachment: https://www.senate.gov/reference/Index/Impeachment.htm
House links to impeachment: https://history.house.gov/Institution/Origins-Development/Impeachment/
The Heritage Guide to the Constitution: https://www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/articles/1/essays/11/impeachment https://www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/articles/1/essays/17/trial-of-impeachment
Impeachment and the Constitution: https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46013
Impeachment and Removal: https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R44260
Good articles on impeachment: https://litigation.findlaw.com/legal-system/presidential-impeachment-the-legal-standard-and-procedure.html
Definition of Treason: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2381
Definition of Bribery: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/bribery