Impeachment – What’s in a Word?
Impeach – verb (used with an object); To accuse a public official before an appropriate tribunal for misconduct in office.
U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4: “The 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.”
Impeachment. The buzzword for 2017. Will he or won’t he be impeached? Is this just a witch hunt from Democrats still sore about losing a Presidential race they should have won? Is it the “Deep State” at work; i.e. holdovers from the Obama administration sabotaging the Trump administration? Could it be part of a planned subterfuge among Republican party supporters who had no choice but to publicly endorse Trump? Or is it caused by the sheer ineffectiveness of the current administration?
Today’s most pressing issue being questioned should be: what does impeachment actually mean?
The term impeachment originates from Latin and is derived from the word impedicare which means entrapment or being caught.
In the United States, impeachment of a president is a two-step process involving both Houses of Congress. The first step requires the House of Representatives to examine and review the Articles of Impeachment which form the basis of the allegation/s. In order to pass, the vote must be approved by a simple majority of those in attendance. Once approved, the defendant has been impeached. This, however, is not enough to remove a sitting president.
Once the Articles of Impeachment are approved in the House, the case is then forwarded to the Senate where a trial of sorts takes place. The House Judicial Council takes on the role of prosecutor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court acts as judge, and the members of the Senate are the jury. The defendant is required to provide their own legal counsel.
Unlike a normal criminal trial, impeachment does not require a unanimous decision. A two-thirds majority of Senators present is all that’s required to convict and remove a president.
Upon conviction, the accused is immediately removed from office. In 1993, the Supreme Court determined that a conviction under Articles of Impeachment cannot be appealed or reviewed in a court of law.
In the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin stated that, historically, the removal of “obnoxious” chief executives had been accomplished by assassination. To avoid that messy solution, Franklin suggested a procedure be put in place to address the problem if it arose. That procedure is called impeachment.
Since the rules were put in place, nineteen Americans have had to face impeachment charges. Fifteen judges, one Senator, one Secretary of War, and three Presidents have been targeted with impeachment proceedings. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted. Richard Nixon resigned his office before the initial proceedings could be completed.
Johnson had been charged with violating the Tenue of Office act which was passed while he was in office to prevent him from firing a politically connected appointee. After he was acquitted, the law was radically changed and eventually overturned.
Bill Clinton was hit with perjury and obstruction of justice charges for lying to Congress about having an affair with a White House staffer. He was later cleared and, as a result of the publicity surrounding the case, was the first non-Brazilian to be awarded the highly-coveted Brazil Macho Man of the Year award.
What is the criteria for impeachment? In 1970, then House Minority leader and later president, Gerald Ford stated, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” In other words, any incident that upsets or angers enough people in the House, can turn into potential impeachment charges.
Luckily for the leaders of some countries, impeachment has replaced assassination. In Korea recently, President Park Geun-Hye, the first female president in that country, was impeached by the Korean Parliament. The conviction was reviewed by the country’s Constitutional Court which upheld the decision. The Court removed Park from office and had her arrested on charges of corruption, fraud, and abuse of power. The former Madam President is now known as Prisoner 503 and faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
Korea doesn’t mess around when it comes to corrupt Presidents. In 1995, two former presidents, Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, were charged with military mutiny, graft, and treason. Upon conviction, Chun was sentenced to death and Roh received 22 years in prison. Both sentences were later reduced and, eventually, both were released from prison.
Since before Donald Trump’s inauguration, the word impeachment has been bandied about more and more every day from his detractors. However, no matter which side of the issue you’re on, it pays to remember that impeachment is not an easy thing to prosecute successfully. Three sitting presidents have been charged, but there has yet to be a conviction.