Matthew T. Mangino
August 10, 2018
The high drama of impeachment is being wielded as a political tool on a state and federal level.
West Virginia’s House Judiciary Committee has adopted articles of impeachment against the state’s entire Supreme Court of Appeals, accusing the judges of a range of crimes.
“It’s a coup,” said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, a Democrat who is the judiciary committee’s minority chair. Fleischauer told NPR that she sees the timing of the impeachment as a ploy to allow GOP Gov. Jim Justice to appoint the majority of the justices on the state’s highest court. Any new justices would then serve until the next election in two years’ time.
A dozen GOP Pennsylvania lawmakers filed articles to impeach against four Democratic state Supreme Court justices who ruled the state’s congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered and replaced it with a new one.
House Republicans in Congress have filed articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion in the 2016 election.
California Congressman Devin Nunes, speaking at a recent Republican dinner, said Rosenstein hasn’t been impeached because of the midterm elections saying that Republicans could be the only force stopping President Donald Trump from being impeached.
Articles of Impeachment have been filed against President Donald Trump. He is accused of obstruction of justice related to the firing of FBI director James Comey, undermining the independence of the federal judiciary, accepting emoluments from a foreign government and other charges. In January the House tabled the Articles of Impeachment against Trump.
Is political acrimony the only criteria for impeachment?
When Gerald Ford was minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, he sought to impeach liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. When asked what an impeachable offense was he said “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
The Constitution allows for the impeachment and removal of an official of the government. Specifically, Article 2, Section 4 states that 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.”
There is no controlling authority on how lawmakers choose to interpret that standard, which makes it as much a question of political will as of legal analysis, according to the New York Times.
Although impeachment is often threatened, it is seldom used. There have been nine federal impeachments in the last 100 years. Four of those impeachments ended without a conviction including President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Politics and impeachment are not new.
In 1802, three justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court were impeached by the House, essentially for political reasons, but not convicted in the Senate.
In 1803, Vice President Aaron Burr presided over the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Burr was under indictment himself for the killing of Alexander Hamilton. The impeachment was really a bitter fight between the Adam’s Federalists and the Jefferson Republicans. Chase was acquitted and Burr was later charged with treason.
Burr’s victim, Hamilton, presciently warned in “Federalist Paper No. 65” that a trial in the Senate of a public official cannot escape the influences of politics, “In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”
The more things change the more they stay the same. Don’t fret — America is not on the verge of a political apocalypse. Today’s politics may seem a bit extreme, but at least the vice-president hasn’t shot any members of the president’s cabinet.
— Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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