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Impeachment Definition


What Is Impeachment?

Impeachment, as licensed by Article II, Part 4 of the U.S. Structure, is the formal course of that permits Congress to carry expenses of “Treason, Bribery, or different excessive Crimes and Misdemeanors” towards high-ranking civil officers, such because the president.

The facility to question serves as step one in an vital examine on the chief and judicial branches of presidency concerning violations of regulation and abuses of energy. When impeached by the Home of Representatives, the official goes on trial and, if convicted by the Senate, is faraway from workplace.

Key Takeaways

  • Impeachment, as outlined in Article II, Part 4 of the U.S. Structure, is the formal course of by which Congress brings expenses towards high-ranking civil officers, such because the president, in a bid to take away them from workplace.
  • Solely the U.S. Home of Representatives has the ability to question a federal official, and solely the Senate can convict and take away the impeached official.
  • Solely three U.S. presidents have been impeached by the Home—Andrew Johnson, Invoice Clinton, and Donald Trump—and all had been acquitted by the Senate.

How Impeachment Works

Article II, Part 4 of the U.S. Structure says:

The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the US, shall be faraway from Workplace on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or different excessive Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Importantly, impeachment isn’t the identical as elimination or conviction, although many individuals assume that’s the case. Impeachment is a charging course of, just like an indictment in a prison continuing.

Impeachment on the federal stage is uncommon; elimination much more so. Impeachment proceedings have been initiated by the Home of Representatives greater than 60 occasions for the reason that adoption of the U.S. Structure. Simply 20 of these proceedings have truly ended with impeachment. There have been simply eight convictions by the Senate, all of them of federal judges.

Solely three U.S. Presidents—Andrew Johnson, Invoice Clinton, and Donald Trump—have been impeached by the U.S. Home of Representatives. All three had been acquitted by the Senate.

Officers Topic to Impeachment

The Structure names the president and vice chairman as topic to impeachment. The query of precisely who “all Civil Officers of the US” are has been the topic of a lot dialogue.

The Federalist Papers—85 essays by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison that comprise a foundational doc of American historical past—clarify that impeachment serves as a examine on the chief and judicial branches of presidency. The essays don’t, nevertheless, specify who inside these branches could be thought-about civil officers.

The time period “civil officers” is broad sufficient to incorporate any officer appointed by the federal authorities. Based mostly on historic precedent, federal judges together with Supreme Court docket justices are topic to impeachment, as are members of the president’s cupboard. Army officers—who face self-discipline underneath the navy code—are usually not topic to impeachment, nor are members of Congress, a precedent established in 1799.

Impeachable Offenses

There was appreciable debate on the 1787 Constitutional Conference in Philadelphia over the definition of impeachable crimes. Initially, the founders stated the president and others could possibly be eliminated by impeachment and conviction for “corrupt conduct” or “malpractice or neglect of responsibility.” Later, the wording was modified to “treason, bribery, or corruption,” then to only “treason or bribery,” earlier than lastly selecting “treason, bribery, or different excessive crimes and misdemeanors.”

The controversy didn’t cease there as a result of the phrase “excessive crimes and misdemeanors” left the matter of impeachable offenses open to interpretation. For the reason that ratification of the Structure in 1789, the definition of “excessive crimes and misdemeanors” has plagued members of Congress, legal professionals, and authorized students alike.

The framers borrowed the time period “excessive crimes and misdemeanors” from British regulation, whereby it referred to crimes by public officers towards the federal government. In sensible phrases, as Consultant Gerald Ford stated in 1970, “An impeachable offense is no matter a majority of the Home of Representatives considers it to be at a given second in historical past.”

Duties of the Home and Senate

Article I, Part 2 of the Structure states that the Home of Representatives has the only real energy to question. The Home, nevertheless, doesn’t have the ability to take away an impeached particular person. That responsibility goes to the Senate, which holds a trial and decides whether or not to convict and take away or acquit.

Impeachment begins when the Home adopts a decision calling for an investigation by a Home committee into expenses towards the official in query. The committee could advocate impeachment or dismissal. The Home then votes, by easy majority, to approve or dismiss articles of impeachment.

Following approval, the Home appoints managers to conduct the impeachment trial within the Senate. The Home then passes a decision informing the Senate in regards to the articles of impeachment and the names of the Home managers who will carry the case earlier than the Senate.

When the Senate receives the decision, that physique advises the Home when it’ll obtain the managers and start the impeachment trial. The Senate turns into the court docket with the president of the Senate presiding, besides when the particular person impeached is the president, during which case, the presiding officer is the chief justice of the Supreme Court docket. To convict and take away an impeached particular person from workplace requires a two-thirds majority within the Senate.

Penalties of Impeachment and Conviction

The penalty for impeachment is a trial within the Senate. As a result of impeachment is identical as an indictment, there isn’t any different penalty, besides maybe to 1’s popularity. Impeachment, as mentioned above, solely requires a easy affirmative majority within the Home of Representatives.

The Structure requires a two-thirds affirmative vote within the Senate to convict an impeached particular person. The penalty for conviction is elimination from workplace. The Senate additionally has the choice, by easy majority vote, to disqualify the official from holding public workplace sooner or later. There isn’t a enchantment to impeachment or conviction as a result of it includes a political slightly than prison query.

Historical past of Federal Impeachment Proceedings

Of the 20 federal impeachment proceedings since 1799, 10 have occurred prior to now 100 years. Impeached officers included 15 federal judges, three presidents, one senator, and a cupboard secretary (the secretary of conflict). These impeachments resulted in seven acquittals, eight convictions (all judges and so they had been faraway from workplace), three dismissals, and one resignation with no additional motion.

As mentioned earlier, solely three U.S. presidents have been impeached by the Home—Andrew Johnson, Invoice Clinton, and Donald Trump—and all had been acquitted by the Senate. President Richard Nixon was by no means impeached, though he was threatened with impeachment over the Watergate scandal of 1974. Nixon stepped down earlier than Congress might vote on whether or not to proceed with impeachment, changing into the one U.S. President to have resigned from workplace.

Actual-Life Instance of Impeachment

A current impeachment and Senate trial occurred when former President Trump was impeached by the Home of Representatives on Dec. 18, 2019. The decision contained two impeachment articles:

1. Abuse of energy

This instance of “excessive crimes and misdemeanors” accused Trump of corruptly trying to solicit Ukraine to conduct investigations to discredit his Democratic political rivals. The article handed 230-197 with Republican members of the Home united of their opposition and two Democrats additionally voting towards the article.

2. Obstruction of Congress

The obstruction of Congress cost, which additionally fell underneath “excessive crimes and misdemeanors,” arose from accusations that when Congress tried to analyze the Ukraine scenario, Trump ordered his administration to defy every try at acquiring data and testimony. This text handed 229-198 with one further Democrat becoming a member of Republicans in opposition to the cost.

The articles of impeachment had been submitted to the Senate on Jan. 16, 2020, and the trial started. Because of objections by Republican senators, no witnesses or paperwork had been subpoenaed. On Feb. 5, 2020, the president was acquitted on each counts. The vote on Article I, abuse of energy, was 48 for conviction, 52 for acquittal. On Article II, obstruction of Congress, the vote was 47 for conviction, 53 for acquittal.

From begin to end, not counting the buildup of proof, these impeachment proceedings took rather less than two months. That stated, there isn’t any set period of time for impeachments and only a few specifics about it within the Structure. For that cause, each impeachment is exclusive.


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