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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, while 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.

The Federal Impeachment Procedure

The 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.

Senate

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 Lordsmarker in the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker, who vote upon their honor). After hearing the charges, the Senate usually deliberates in private. Conviction requires a two-thirds majority.

The Senate enters judgment on its decision, whether that be to convict or acquit, and a copy of the judgment is filed with the Secretary of State Upon conviction, the official is automatically removed and may also be barred from holding future office. The removed official is also liable to criminal prosecution. The President may not grant a pardon in the impeachment case, but may use it in any criminal case.

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.

History

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. Hence, cases of impeachment may be undertaken only for "treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors." However, some scholars, such as Kevin Gutzman, have disputed this view and argue that the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" was intended to have a much more expansive meaning (see, for example, Kevin Gutzman's The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, which has an extensive discussion of this question).

The Congress traditionally regards impeachment as a power to use only in extreme cases; the House of Representatives has actually 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 18 federal officers have taken place. Of these, 14 were federal judges: Eleven district court, two court of appeals (one of whom also sat on the Commerce Court), and one Supreme Courtmarker 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 18 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 1797 impeachment of Senator William Blount of Tennesseemarker 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 very seat from which he had been 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. Ever since Johnson's trial, there has been an established precedent against impeachment of a president solely on political grounds.

Richard Nixon resigned in the face of the near certainty of his impeachment, which had already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

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

Federal officials impeached

# Date of Impeachment Accused Office Result1
1 July 7, 1797 William Blount United States Senator (Tennesseemarker) Dismissed on January 14, 17992
2 March 2, 1803 John Pickering Judge (District of New Hampshire) Removed on March 12, 1804
3 March 12, 1804 Samuel Chase Associate Justice (Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker) Acquitted on March 1, 1805
4 April 24, 1830 James H. Peck Judge (District of Missouri) Acquitted on January 31, 1831
5 May 6, 1862 West Hughes Humphreys Judge (Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts of Tennesseemarker) Removed and disqualified on June 26, 1862
6 February 24, 1868 Andrew Johnson President of the United States Acquitted on May 26, 1868
7 February 28, 1873 Mark W. Delahay Judge (District of Kansas) Resigned on December 12, 1873
8 March 2, 1876 William W. Belknap United States Secretary of War Acquitted after his resignation on August 1, 1876.
9 December 13, 1904 Charles Swayne Judge (Northern District of Florida) Acquitted on February 27, 1905
10 July 11, 1912 Robert W. Archbald Associate Justice (United States Commerce Court)
Judge (Third Circuit Court of Appeals)
Removed and disqualified on January 13, 1913
11 April 1, 1926 George W. English Judge (Eastern District of Illinois) Resigned on November 4, 1926, proceedings dismissed on December 13, 1926
12 February 24, 1933 Harold Louderback Judge (Northern District of California) Acquitted on May 24, 1933
13 March 2, 1936 Halsted L. Ritter Judge (Southern District of Florida) Removed on April 17, 1936
14 July 22, 1986 Harry E. Claiborne Judge (District of Nevada) Removed on October 9, 1986
15 August 3, 1988 Alcee Hastings Judge (Southern District of Florida) Removed on October 20, 1989
16 May 10, 1989 Walter Nixon Chief Judge (Southern District of Mississippi) Removed on November 3, 19893
17 December 19, 1998 Bill Clinton President of the United States Acquitted on February 12, 19994
18 June 19, 2009 Samuel B. Kent Judge (Southern District of Texas) Resigned on June 30, 2009, proceedings dismissed on July 22, 2009


Notes

1"Removed and disqualified" indicates that following conviction the Senate voted to disqualify the individual from holding further federal office pursuant to Article I, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, which provides, in pertinent part, that "[j]udgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States."

2During 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).

3Judge Nixon later challenged the validity of his removal from office on procedural grounds; the challenge was ultimately rejected as nonjusticiable by the Supreme Courtmarker in Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 .

4The 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 three individuals (Monica Lewinsky, Sidney Blumenthal (a senior aide to President Clinton) and Vernon Jordan (Democratic power broker and confidant of President Clinton)) testified via videotape. 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, 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 resigned from office after the House Judiciary Committee had already reported articles of impeachment to the floor.

Impeachment Investigations

The Judicial Task force on Judicial Impeachments

On June 19, 2008, the Judicial Conference of the United States delivered to the House of Representatives notification certifying "its determination that consideration of impeachment of United States District Judge Thomas Porteous (E.D. La.) may be warranted." After a number of months considering the matter, the House passed Resolution 1448, which authorized the House Judiciary committee to create a task force to handle the investigation. The task force's authority lapsed with the change of Congress, and on January 13, 2009, the House passed , which renewed it. In May of that year, the Task Force's authority was expanded to include the case of Samuel Kent in May of 2009, and the following month it reported four articles of Impeachment against Kent to the full Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee then unanimously voted to pass them on to the full House, which then voted to formally impeach him. The trial began in the Senate on June 24th. The day after the trial began, he resigned; it took effect on 30 June 2009. The Senate ended the trial on July 22.The following November, the Task Force held hearings on the Porteous matter.

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 . 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 an impeachment trial; a twelfth, Governor Lee Cruce of Oklahomamarker, escaped impeachment conviction by a single vote in 1912. Several others, most recently Connecticutmarker's John G. Rowland, have resigned rather than face impeachment, when events seemed to make it inevitable. The most recent impeachment of a governor occurred on January 9, 2009. The Illinois House of Representatives voted 114-1 to impeach Governor Rod Blagojevich. The only dissenter was State Representative Milton Patterson. The Illinois House again voted to impeach Blagojevich on January 14, 2009, with a 117-1 vote. The only dissenter was State Representative Deborah Mell, a Democrat and Blagojevich's sister-in-law, who had been sworn into her first term representing Chicago earlier that day. On January 29, the Illinois State Senate, by a vote of 59-0, formally removed Blagojevich from the Office of Governor of the State of Illinois. He was the eighth state governor in American history to be removed from office, after being impeached and convicted of high crimes.

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.

State officials impeached

Date Accused Office Result
1804 William W. Irvin Associate Judge, Fairfield County, Ohiomarker Court of Common Pleas Removed
1832 Theophilus W. Smith Associate Justice, Illinois Supreme Courtmarker Acquitted
February 26, 1862 Charles L. Robinson Governor of Kansas Acquitted
February 26, 1862 John Winter Robinson Secretary of State of Kansas Removed on June 12, 1862
February 26, 1862 George S. Hillyer Kansas State Auditor Removed on June 16, 1862
1871 William Woods Holden Governor of North Carolina Removed
1871 David Butler Governor of Nebraska Removed
1872 Henry C. Warmoth Governor of Louisiana "suspended from office," though trial was not held
1876 Adelbert Ames Governor of Mississippi Resigned
1888 James W. Tate Kentucky State Treasurer Removed
August 13, 1913 William Sulzer Governor of New York Removed on October 17, 1913
1917 James E. Ferguson Governor of Texas Removed
October 23, 1923 John C. Walton Governor of Oklahoma Removed
January 21, 1929 Henry S. Johnston Governor of Oklahoma Removed
April 6, 1929 Huey P. Long Governor of Louisiana Acquitted
February 6, 1988 Evan Mecham Governor of Arizona Removed on April 5, 1988
March 30, 1989 A. James Manchin West Virginia State Treasurer Resigned on July 9, 1989 before trial started
November 11, 2004 Kathy Augustine Nevada State Controller Censured on December 4, 2004, not removed from office
January 8, 2009

Rod Blagojevich Governor of Illinois Removed on January 29, 2009, and declared ineligible to hold public office in Illinois
January 14, 2009


See also



References



  1. Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials
  2. Welcome to The American Presidency
  3. The Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 3. "The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present."
  4. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5hgfBLQ9j)
  5. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5hfRJRw37)
  6. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5iTDSpUiA)
  7. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5iTE2kciQ)
  8. Tentative description of a dinner given to promote the impeachment of President Dwight Eisenhower: [poem] by Lawrence Ferlinghetti; City Lights Books: (1958)
  9. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,742975,00.html
  10. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5jBqYaFUd)
  11. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5jBt2tt6d)
  12. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5jBqfYQcx)
  13. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5jBtg6ihS)
  14. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5hRiYctKC)
  15. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5hggFFpLv)
  16. NYS Constitution, Article VI, §24
  17. "SULZER IMPEACHED BY ASSEMBLY BUT REFUSES TO SURRENDER OFFICE", Syracuse Herald, August 13, 1913, p1
  18. "HIGH COURT REMOVES SULZER FROM OFFICE BY A VOTE OF 43 TO 12", Syracuse Herald, October 17, 1913, p1
  19. Official Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana, April 6, 1929 pp. 292-94


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