From memes on the Internet, to trending topics on Twitter, and even to members of congress talking about it, impeachment has been in the news. It has been just shy of 20 years since the country went through a Presidential impeachment, which means if you’re a member of the iGeneration, you have no memory of the last time a U.S. president was impeached.
Disclaimer: This website expresses no opinion for or against impeachment of the current occupant of the White House. This article is merely in response to a topic that has become a topic of national discussion.
IMPEACHMENT DOESN’T MEAN REMOVAL FROM OFFICE
Despite the fact that two attempts at presidential impeachment have been made since 1974, the public by and large seems to think that impeachment is synonymous with removal from office. It isn’t. The House of Representatives presents and votes on articles of impeachment, and at that point, a president is technically impeached. However, the U.S. Senate is the only body that can bring the impeachment to trial. If the Senate finds the impeached guilty, he is automatically removed from office. The Senate is also capable of preventing the impeached from holding political office in the future.
NO IMPEACHED PRESIDENT HAS EVER BEEN REMOVED FROM OFFICE
Just to drive home the point that impeachment doesn’t lead to removal from office, bear in mind that two U.S. presidents have actually been impeached in the House of Representatives, but neither was found guilty by the Senate, and both remained president. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached by the House, but acquitted by the Senate. Neither ever faced criminal charges. Impeachment is a very rare event in American history, and removal a president through impeachment is — at this point — unheard of.
BUT IT WAS REALLY CLOSE
Andrew Johnson escaped removal from office by the hair of his chinny chin chin. Johnson was impeached in the house following a violation of the Tenure of Office Act. He was acquitted in the Senate by just one vote. Interestingly enough, the law for which Johnson was impeached was later found to be unconstitutional.
RICHARD NIXON WASN’T IMPEACHED
It’s a common misconception that Richard Nixon was impeached. He wasn’t. While articles of impeachment were filed on him and the House Judiciary Committee passed the articles of impeachment, Nixon resigned before his impeachment could be brought before the full House for a vote. Say what you will about Watergate, the cover-up, Nixon’s paranoia and the man himself, but you can’t say he was impeached. He spared himself from that.
PRESIDENTIAL PARDONS DON’T EXTEND TO IMPEACHED PRESIDENTS
While we’re on the subject of Richard Nixon, let’s talk about presidential pardons. If the president were to be impeached, the vice-president would become president. The new president’s powers, however, don’t include pardoning the previous office-holder from their impeachment. In other words, the vice-president can’t undo the impeachment and put the impeached president back in office. He can pardon the president of any criminal charges that are brought as a result of the impeachment, but the Senate’s verdict is final.
IMPEACHMENT IS NOT A CRIMINAL TRIAL
Impeachment only deals with the political consequences of a president’s actions. While a president can be impeached for criminal activity, the impeachment itself does not have any criminal consequences. That would come later. An impeached president would not go from the White House directly to the Federal Penitentiary. The highest consequence of impeachment is removal from office.
POLITICAL AFFILIATION MATTERS
The House of Representatives has never brought impeachment articles against a president of the same party. If the party that controls the House is the same party that controls the White House, impeachment hearings are even more unlikely than they already are.
NOT ALL CRIMES ARE IMPEACHABLE OFFENSES
Again, impeachment isn’t about crime. The founding fathers were more concerned about securing a method to remove a president who may pose a threat to democracy than they were about having a criminal in the White House. The Constitution specifically spells out treason and bribery and then gives us the more vague “other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The framers of the Constitution intentionally didn’t spell out every impeachable offense, but they indicated that only the highest forms of crime could lead to impeachment.
IT’S LIKE A COURT CASE
If an impeachment trial were held in a courtroom instead of the halls of Congress, The House of Representatives would look a lot like the prosecution. They make the case against the president and determine if they have enough evidence to bring it to trial. Their vote on that, is the equivalent of a prosecutor deciding to bring charges against a defendant. The Senate acts as judge and jury. Representatives from the House come to the Senate to prosecute the case, and the actual trial is conducted in the Senate.
IT ISN’T ENTIRELY OPEN
While the votes and hearings on impeachment are public, the deliberation, like the deliberation of a jury, is private. After the trial phase, the Senate goes into closed-door meetings to determine the verdict. The proceedings return to the public view once it is time to cast a vote.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT PRESIDES
Remember, the Vice President is also president of the Senate. It would be a conflict of interest for him to preside over impeachment hearings for his boss, so the Constitution provides a check and balance to that. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over presidential impeachment hearings in the Senate. In an ironic twist, the Constitution doesn’t spell out who presides over a vice-presidential impeachment. If you take the Constitution completely literally, the veep would preside over his own impeachment.