Impeachment in the United States

Impeachment in the United States

Impeachment in the United States is an expressed power of the legislature which allows for formal charges to be brought against a civil officer of government for conduct committed in office. The actual trial on those charges, and subsequent removal of an official on conviction on those charges is separate from the act of impeachment itself: impeachment is analogous to indictment in regular court proceedings, trial by the other house is analogous to the trial before judge and jury in regular courts. Typically, the lower house of the legislature will impeach the official and the upper house will conduct the trial.

At the federal level, Article Two of the United States Constitution (Section 4) states that "The President, Vice President, and all other 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." The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeaching, while the United States Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments. The removal of impeached officials is automatic upon conviction in the Senate.

Impeachment can also occur at the state level; state legislatures can impeach state officials, including governors, according to their respective state constitutions.

Federal impeachment

House of Representatives

Impeachment proceedings may be commenced by a member of the House of Representatives on his or her own initiative by either presenting a listing of the charges under oath, or by asking for referral to the appropriate committee. The impeachment process may be triggered by non-members, for example: when the Judicial Conference of the United States suggests a federal judge be impeached; a special prosecutor advises the House of information which he or she believes constitutes grounds for impeachment; by message from the President; or by a charge from a state or territorial legislature or grand jury; or by petition.

The type of impeachment resolution determines which committee it will be referred to. A resolution impeaching a particular individual is typically referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. A resolution to authorize an investigation regarding impeachable conduct is referred to the House Committee on Rules, and then referred to the Judiciary Committee. The House Committee on the Judiciary, by majority vote, will determine whether grounds for impeachment exist. If the Committee finds grounds for impeachment they will set forth specific allegations of misconduct in one or more "articles of impeachment." The Impeachment Resolution, or Article(s) of Impeachment, are then reported to the full House with the committee's recommendations.

The House debates the resolution and may at the conclusion consider the resolution as a whole or vote on each article of impeachment individually. A simple majority of those present and voting is required for each article or the resolution as a whole to pass. If the House votes to impeach, managers are selected to present the case to the Senate. Recently, managers have been selected by resolution, while historically the House would occasionally elect the managers or pass a resolution allowing the appointment of managers at the discretion of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Also, the House will adopt a resolution in order to notify the Senate of its action. After receiving the notice, the Senate will adopt an order notifying the House that it is ready to receive the managers. The House managers will then appear before the bar of the Senate to impeach the individual involved and exhibit the articles against him or her. After the reading of the charges, the managers return and make a verbal report to the House.


The proceedings unfold in the form of a trial, with each side having the right to call witnesses and perform cross-examinations. The House members presenting the prosecution case, who are given the collective title "managers" during the course of the trial, are allowed full access to the floor of the Senate chamber (a privilege not otherwise given to House members) only for the purposes of the impeachment trial. Senators must also take an oath or affirmation that they will perform their duties honestly and with due diligence (as opposed to the House of Lords in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, who vote upon their honor). The hearing requires a simple majority of the Senators as a quorum. After hearing the charges, the Senate retires to deliberate in private. Conviction requires a two-thirds majority.

The Senate may vote thereafter to punish the individual by removing her or him from office (except for the President, who Constitutionally is required to be removed from office upon conviction of impeachment charges), or by barring her or him from holding future office, or both. Alternatively, it may impose no punishment. But in the case of executive officers, removal follows automatically upon conviction, as required by the Constitution. The convicted defendant remains liable to criminal prosecution. The President may not in any case use his power of pardon in a case of impeachment, but may, as usual, pardon a defendant in the case of a criminal prosecution.

Beginning in the 1980s, the Senate began using "Impeachment Trial Committees" pursuant to Senate Rule XII. These committees presided over the evidentiary phase of the trials, hearing the evidence and supervising the examination and cross-examination of witnesses. The committees would then compile the evidentiary record and present it to the Senate; all senators would then have the opportunity to review the evidence before the chamber voted to convict or acquit. The purpose of the committees was to streamline impeachment trials, which otherwise would have taken up a great deal of the chamber's time. Defendants challenged the use of these committees, claiming them to be a violation of their fair trial rights as well as the Senate's constitutional mandate, as a body, to have "sole power to try all impeachments." Several impeached judges sought court intervention in their impeachment proceedings on these grounds, but the courts generally refused to become involved due to the Constitution's granting of impeachment and removal power solely to the legislative branch, making it a political question.


In writing Article II, Section Four, George Mason had favored impeachment for "maladministration" (incompetence), but James Madison, who favored impeachment only for criminal behavior, carried the issue. [ [ Welcome to The American Presidency ] ] Hence, cases of impeachment may be undertaken only for "treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Congress traditionally regards impeachment as a power to use only in extreme cases; the House of Representatives has "initiated" impeachment proceedings only 62 times since 1789. Two cases did not come to trial because the individuals had left office.

Actual impeachments of only the following 17 federal officers have taken place. Of these, 13 were federal judges: Ten district court, two court of appeals (one of whom also sat on the Commerce Court), and one Supreme Court Associate Justice (Samuel Chase). Of the other four, two were Presidents (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, both acquitted), one was a Cabinet secretary (Secretary of War William W. Belknap, acquitted after he had resigned), and one was a U.S. Senator (William Blount). Of the 17 impeached officials, seven were convicted. One, former judge Alcee Hastings, was elected as a member of the House of Representatives after being removed from office.

The 1799 impeachment of Senator William Blount of Tennessee stalled on the grounds that the Senate lacked jurisdiction over him. Because, in a separate action unrelated to the impeachment procedure, the Senate had already expelled Blount, the lack of jurisdiction may have been either because Blount was no longer a Senator, or because Senators are not "civil officers" of the federal government who are subject to impeachment. No other member of Congress has ever been impeached, although the Constitution does give authority to either house to expel members, which each has done on occasion, effectively removing the individual from functioning as a representative or senator. Notably, however, expulsion, unlike impeachment, cannot bar an individual from holding future office, as can be seen in the case of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., who subsequently won re-election to the seat from which he was expelled (see also Powell v. McCormack).

Impeachment of a U.S. President

Two U.S. Presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted at trial.

Richard Nixon resigned in the face of the near certainty of both his impeachment, which had already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee, and the apparent likelihood of his conviction by the Senate. Fact|date=August 2008

During the Senate trial of a President, the Chief Justice of the United States presides.

Officials impeached


1During the impeachment trial of Senator Blount, it was argued that the House of Representatives did not have the power to impeach members of either House of Congress; though the Senate never explicitly ruled on this argument, the House has never again impeached a member of Congress. The Constitution allows either House to expel one of its members by a two-thirds vote, which the Senate had done to Blount on the same day the House impeached him (but before the Senate heard the case).

2Judge Nixon later challenged the validity of his removal from office on procedural grounds; the challenge was ultimately rejected as nonjusticiable by the Supreme Court in "Nixon v. United States", 506 U.S. 224 (1993)

3The House of Representatives impeached President Clinton on December 19, 1998, on grounds of perjury to a grand jury (voting 228-206) and obstruction of justice (221-212). Two other articles of impeachment failed — a second count of perjury in the Paula Jones case (205-229), and one accusing Clinton of abuse of power (148-285). The Senate impeachment trial lasted from January 7, 1999, until February 12. No witnesses were called during the trial, although four individuals (President Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Sidney Blumenthal (a senior aide to President Clinton) and Vernon Jordan (Democratic power broker and confidant of President Clinton)) testified via videotape.Fact|date=March 2008 A two-thirds majority, 67 votes, would have been necessary to remove the President from office. Both charges were defeated: perjury (45-55) and obstruction of justice (50-50).

Demands for impeachment

While actually impeaching a federal public official is a rare event, demands for impeachment, especially of presidents, are extremely common, [ Tentative description of a dinner given to promote the impeachment of President Dwight Eisenhower: [poem] by Lawrence Ferlinghetti; City Lights Books: (1958)] going back to the administration of George Washington in the mid-1790s. In fact, most of the 63 resolutions mentioned above were in response to presidential actions.

While almost all of them were for the most part frivolous and were buried as soon as they were introduced, several did have their intended effect. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon and Supreme court Justice Abe Fortas both resigned in response to the threat of impeachment hearings, and most famously, President Richard Nixon left office after the House Judiciary committee had already reported articles of impeachment to the floor. In January 1843, the House defeated a motion to form a committee of impeachment of President John Tyler by a vote of 84 in favor, 127 against. [ [ When Congress Decides A President'S 'High Crimes And Misdemeanors' - March 7, 1998 ] ] In addition, the original mandate of the joint committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair was to look for evidence that might lead to the impeachment of President Ronald Reagan.

In April 2007, Rep. Dennis Kucinich submitted a resolution (Resolution 333) to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney; like all resolutions, his resolution was referred to a Committee (in this case, the Judiciary Committee) and the Committee has no plans to schedule debate or a hearing on his resolution.

In 2007, a group of Democrats in the U.S. House sought impeachment hearings by the Judiciary Committee against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. [ [ ABC News: Dems Seek Gonzales Impeachment ] ]

On November 6, 2007, the House referred an impeachment motion, Resolution 333, pressed again by Kucinich, against Vice President Cheney to the House Judiciary Committee for further study. The Republicans wanted this motion killed, but Democrats forced them to push the measure into the House Judiciary Committee for further discussion. There has also been discussions as well to impeach President George W. Bush over actions similar to those of which Dick Cheney has been accused.

On June 9, 2008 Dennis Kucinich delivered 35 articles of impeachment against George W. Bush to the U.S. House of Representatives.cite web |url= |title=Kucinich introduces Bush impeachment resolution |accessdate=2008-08-16 |date=2008-08-16 |publisher=CNN]

Impeachment in the states

State legislatures can impeach state officials, including governors. The court for the trial of impeachments may differ somewhat from the federal model — in New York, for instance, the Assembly (lower house) impeaches, and the State Senate tries the case, but the members of the seven-judge New York State Court of Appeals (the state's highest, constitutional court) sit with the senators as jurors as well (NYS Constitution, Article VI, §24). Impeachment and removal of governors has happened occasionally throughout the history of the United States, usually for corruption charges. A total of at least eleven U.S. state governors have faced impeachment; a twelfth, Governor Lee Cruce of Oklahoma, escaped impeachment by a single vote in 1912. As of 2005 the most recent impeachment of a U.S. state governor took place in Arizona and resulted in the removal of Governor Evan Mecham in 1988; several others, most recently Connecticut's John G. Rowland, have resigned rather than face impeachment, when events seemed to make it appear inevitable.

The procedure for impeachment, or removal, of local officials varies widely. For instance, in New York a mayor is removed directly by the governor "upon being heard" on charges — the law makes no further specification of what charges are necessary or what the governor must find in order to remove a mayor.

Impeached state officials

ee also

*Censure in the United States
*HR 333 to Impeach Richard Cheney
*Impeachment of Bill Clinton
*Jefferson's Manual


* [ United States Embassy Bogota, Colombia - "An Overview of the Impeachment Process"]
* [ Jefferson's manual for impeachment]

External links

US Constitution

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