Impeachment meant to be rare
The impeachment experience provided a civics lesson opportunity.
Media reporting did not do justice to that opportunity. My analysis does not depend on fact witnesses, but rather law, the constitution and the legal process.
It is taken from the defense presentations of Ken Starr, Patrick Philbin and, to some extent, Alan Dershowitz.
After 78 days of semi-secret hearings, the House committees proposed two articles of impeachment (abuse of power and obstruction of congress), which the full House approved along a narrow party line vote.
Take the “obstruction of congress” article first.
The House committees issued several subpoenas. The defendant declined to obey them.
That, in the view of the House Managers, constituted obstruction of congress. Constitutionally, an impeachment inquiry begins only after the full House of Representatives votes for it.
This impeachment inquiry began when the Speaker of the House announced it at a press conference — with no vote of the House. The subpoenas were null and void, as no House vote was taken.
Further, every citizen has the right to contest the validity of a subpoena in court — and that appeal had not taken place.
Therefore, how could one be convicted for resisting invalid subpoenas, and before appropriate legal questions were resolved?
The obstruction of congress article can be dismissed.
The phrase “abuse of power” is vague. Like beauty, it is in the eyes of the beholder.
The founders discussed having another vague phrase, “maladministration,” as grounds for impeachment but decided not to do so. They instead settled on offenses that are crimes – offenses against established law.
The constitution says: “Treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Treason is a crime. Bribery is a crime. High crimes are crimes. Misdemeanors are crimes. Abuse of power is not a crime – even if supported by despicable behavior. Immoral and unethical behavior are not crimes; although specific associated behavior may be a crime.
So much for “abuse of power.”
The founders didn’t want to vest too much power in the Legislature to easily remove the executive.
They wanted “checks and balances” among the legislative, executive and judicial branches and took several steps to ensure it.
Unlike the United States, the English House of Commons, by a majority vote of “no confidence,” can fire their prime minister.
Imagine giving our House of Representatives that power.
In the founders’ view, that concentrated too much power in the Legislature. The founders also required the people, through their representatives, overwhelmingly support removal.
So they settled on a process in which the House brings charges and the Senate adjudicates them. But the Senate must convict by two-thirds majority.
Impeachment was meant to be rare. Only 63 occurred in our history, mostly federal judges — but including three presidents. Why?
Federal judges are appointed for life. The only way to remove them is impeachment.
We have presidential elections every four years.
Gable resides in Altoona. He is occasional contributor to the Mirror’s Opinion page.