Impeachment refers to the many steps frequently taken to revoke the office of a government official. Impeachment, regardless of how rare it has been in the modern politics of the United States, is a familiar term in political science as well as in the political world. There are a variety of reasons that a president can be impeached, even whether he or she is embroiled in a scam or fails to properly fulfill his presidential duties. The term impeachment is also used today in the United States and the electorate has differing viewpoints on the new president of the country (Peterson 47). The constitution offers the House of Representatives the ultimate power to impeach the sitting president, and besides this, the constitution approves that the Senate can act as the sole court that conducts the impeachment trials (Peterson 45). Impeachment in the United States is a specified power granted to the legislature allowing formal charges to be brought upon the president for the committed crimes or the alleged crimes. The power of impeachment is not only limited to removing a civil officer from the office but also involves disqualifying the individual from taking over the office in the future. This paper assesses the impeachment of the president in the United States by researching on the history of impeachment as well as the process involved in impeaching the president.
History of Impeachment
The origins of impeachment are traceable back to the United Kingdom and as early as 14th century. Impeachment was a procedure put in place by the House of Commons whereby they could accuse anyone of a crime. In its early days, whenever the Commons voted for an individual to be impeached, then the trials would be carried in the House of the Lords. In the United Kingdom, the law declaring a person guilty of the alleged crime and valid for impeachment never required the royal assent like it was in the bill of attainder; instead, this law was applicable when seeking to remove troublesome officials from the Crown even if they were under the protection of the monarch (History.house.gov). However, the monarch was above the law, and this means that he or she would never be impeached or faced judgment for any committed crime. Impeachment and trial of a monarch were first encountered in 1649, when King Charles I faced trial before the Rump Parliament, and he denied that no one had the legal rights to indict him after all his powers were granted to him by God as well as the laws of the country (History.house.gov). Nevertheless, the House of Commons pronounced that he was guilty and an order was given for his execution, and it was from this point that a realization came that there as a need to revisit and restructure the laws governing impeachment.
After this incidence, the delegates present at the Philadelphia Convention saw that it was necessary to incorporate the impeachment procedure in Article II and Section 4 of the constitution of America so that it applied to any government official and by explicitly mention the term ‘president’ so that they could avoid any case of ambiguity (History.house.gov). This document serves as the foundation the United States system of government. Nonetheless, other people stood against this constitution, mainly opposing the impeachment clause. Their reason for this opposition was that it was unconstitutional to have a legislative branch oversee the judgment of the executive because this would compromise the separation of powers they already established between the three branches of the federal government, which are the executive, legislative, and judicial. It was the argument presented by James Madison that fortified the establishment of impeaching presidents as well. James Madison argued by stating that people will only be impeached for criminal behaviors and that an honest magistrate should not fear impeachment and instead only a wrong civil officer will be afraid of these laws.
In trying to institute clear framework of impeachment, the founder of the American system of government addressed the several crimes punishable by impeachment and the obvious choices that were mentioned were treason and bribery. However, there was an argument that this list left out numerous crimes that a civil officer would commit against the state. In response to this, James Madison declined the use of the phrase maladministration because it was not clear enough (History.house.gov). Instead, George Mason proposed the use of the term ‘other high crimes and misdemeanors’ in the place of treason and bribery (History.house.gov). This was a term borrowed from the British legal practice, and it entailed all the crimes that a public official would commit against the government and the state. The revision by George Mason was accepted (History.house.gov). Subsequent experiences, however, have highlighted the idea that the term is still vague and in need of revision as to clarify what qualifies as impeachable offenses.
The Impeachment Process
The process of impeaching the president of the United States or any official at the federal level entails both the House of Congress and the different serving functions. Article 2 Section 4 state that “President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (Shea 47). It is essential to understand that the term impeachment does not explicitly refer to the actual deed of removing the person from the office, but rather the initial steps involved in removing the individual from his or her seat. The process consists of the consideration and preparation of formal charges performed by the House of Representatives at the federal level and the final trial performed by the Senate.
The first step is known as the initiation. It entails commencement of the proceedings in the House of Representatives by a Member of declares a charge of impeachment, by a Member who presents a memorial list of charges under oath or by a Member who deposits a resolution in the hopper, that the committee finds appropriate (Samahon 13). Additionally, people who are not Members can trigger impeachment by a message from the president or by a charge from a state (Samahon 15). After this, the resolution is referred to the House Committee on Rules, and it permits the House Committee to carry an investigation as to whether there are sufficient reasons for impeachment.
The second step is an investigation. In the previous proceedings, the House conducts an assessment on the charges before entertaining any vote. In normal circumstances, the Judiciary Committee leads the investigation and reports the duties delegated by resolution once the charges are presented (Ehrlich 32). However, sometimes it is possible for any special committee to conduct this investigation as long as they are selected and deemed fit to pursue the case. The aim of investigation is to find out whether the accused is guilty of treason, bribery or any related crime and misdemeanor against the federal government. The status of whether the person is innocent or guilty is determined by the majority vote of the House Committee on the judiciary who will then decide whether there are existing grounds for impeaching the accused (Ehrlich 35). The resolution impeaching the person is then presented to the full House.
The third phase is the subsequent actions taken by the House after they receive the report from the Committee. The House often considers the resolution as complete or may vote every article separately at the end of the debate (Ehrlich 36). Besides, the House cannot consider the recommendations of the committee as binding. Therefore, the House may proceed with their voting to impeach an individual even if the Judiciary Committee does not recommend that the person needs to be impeached (Ehrlich 36). The votes of the House impeaches upon satisfaction of quorum, and it only demands that the majority agrees after which there will be a selection of managers will present the matter to the Senate.
The last step involves the House adopting a resolution so that they can send a notification to the Senate of its action. Once the Senate receives the notification, they will develop an order to inform the House that they are ready to receive the managers (Ehrlich 38). After this, the managers will be presented before the bar of the Senate for impeaching the person involved and present the individual with the articles against him or her. Once this is over, the managers return to make a verbal report to the House.
The following process involves the Senate, and it begins with trial preparations administrated by the Rules of Procedure and Practice. The Senate will inform the accused on the date of appearance and answering of questions. On this particular period, the person can appear to represent himself or by counsel (Brown 97). At the same time, the person may decide not to appear however if this happens, the sitting assumes the person’s claims that he is not guilty. Typically, the House has a list of questions that the respondent must answer. Once the pleadings are concluded, the Senate sets a trial date, and on this day the Senate will ask the House managers to give the necessary information regarding the accused to the Sergeant at Arms. After the impeachment trials, the Senate will provide their arguments of both sides, and they may request for a formal vote (Brown 98). The moment the presentation and discussions are finished, the Senate will meet in a closed session where they will vote whether to convict the individual of the articles. Only two-thirds of votes from the Senate will be required to find the person guilty after which the Presiding Officer will make the final judgment and offer a statement of removal.
Impeaching of presidents is not a new thing and has been there through time with some presidents and government officials already impeached from their position. Impeachment of the civil officer is safety measure taken by the House of Representatives and the Senate to protect the government from failing to perform its official and appointed roles. Besides this, it is also a measure to avoid misuse of power and authority by those in the ruling position. There is an official procedure that must be strictly followed and the specific bodies appointed to carry the proceedings on behalf of the state.
Brown, H. Lowell. High Crimes And Misdemeanors In Presidential Impeachment. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010,.
Ehrlich, Walter. Presidential Impeachment. [St. Charles, Mo.], Forum Press, 1974,.
History.house.gov. "Impeachment | US House Of Representatives: History, Art & Archives." History.House.Gov, 2017, http://history.house.gov/Institution/Origins-Development/Impeachment/.
Peterson, Christopher Lewis. "Trump University And Presidential Impeachment." SSRN Electronic Journal, vol 14, no. 2, 2016, pp. 45-53. Elsevier BV, doi:10.2139/ssrn.2841306.
Samahon, Tuan. "Impeachment As Judicial Selection?." SSRN Electronic Journal, vol 46, no. 5, 2009, pp. 12-18. Elsevier BV, doi:10.2139/ssrn.1474773.
Shea, Pegi Deitz. The Impeachment Process. Philadelphia, Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.