Impeachment – what is it really?

This post will avoid discussing or analyzing the recent impeachment trial a few months ago. Instead this post will explain what an impeachment means, the process involved, and who can be impeached.

First, let’s start with some basic information: who can be impeached, what impeachment means, and what someone can be impeached for. The Constitution (Article II, Section 4) allows for a President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States to be impeached. This means that congressmen and congresswomen, federal judges, and members of the cabinet can be impeached. Fun fact: more judges have been impeached than other federal employees. Impeachment by definition just means a charge of misconduct. The U.S. Constitution, under Article II, Section 4 lists “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” as what can start a charge of impeachment in the House of Representatives, which has the sole power to try all impeachments. Treason and Bribery are fairly easy to define, however other high Crimes and Misdemeanors are still being debated. Part of the reason for this is that the writers of the U.S. Constitution did not want to list out every single item someone may be impeached for, and also realizing the country would evolve and grow they realized they could not predict every way a new high Crime or Misdemeanor might occur.

Second, let’s cover the role of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the impeachment process. The House of Representatives has the sole power to try all impeachments. This means the House of Representatives acts as a Grand Jury – they decide is there evidence to go to trial, not if the person is guilty of the crime they are being impeached for. This is important because the House of Representatives have initiated impeachment more than 60 times, less than a third when to the Senate for a full impeachment trial, and of that only 8, all federal judges, have been convicted and removed from office. Under Article I, Section 3, the Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments. This section also requires that a conviction for impeachment requires 2/3s of the senators (or a super majority – 67 out of 100 senators) vote to convict. Once convicted, the Senate will hold another vote to determine what specific consequences the person will face. The consequences include a wide variety of options including removal from office, not being allowed to hold another federal position, denial of pension or benefits, etc.  As of the writing of this post, the last impeachment was in 2010 for a federal judge.

The House of Representative and Senate that list impeachment cases from 1797, to current day. The House’s website provides more information on the charge and when happened, including the time between when the House Impeached and the Senate had the trial.

Before this post ends, the lawyer writing this post would like people to realize that while the Presidential Impeachment trials get all the publicity, the judges and other people who are on the list of impeached are just as important because they swore to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution too. It is the failure to do so that starts the impeachment process.


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