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Study Notes


AQA, Edexcel, OCR

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Impeachment is a constitutionally expressed power of the legislative branch that allows the removal from office of elected and appointed officials. Impeachment in the US is a two stage process.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states that ‘President, Vice President and all civic officer of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanours.’

Essentially this means that if any official commits an act mentioned above then they are to face Impeachment. Impeachment is the responsibility of Congress, but different responsibilities are constitutionally allocated to the House of Representatives and Senate. It should be noted that a successful impeachment can count as one which been carried out in full including a trial, but the verdict doesn’t have to have resulted in removal from office.

Impeachment in the House

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution references impeachment and outlines the powers of the house regarding it. The actual wording states that the House shall have ‘the sole power of impeachment’. Thus meaning that the House will vote to impeach any official for which the procedure is necessary.

In order to impeach the House Judiciary Committee will investigate the claims that are presented to it, just as it would any other investigation. The Committee will then prepare a recommendation for the entire House. At this point the House will then vote to impeach. In addition to this the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee will recommend managers to become the prosecution team in the impeachment trial.

Since 1789, the House has initiated 62 impeachment proceedings. Only 19 of these have carried through to a trial.

Impeachment in the Senate

Stage 2 of the process occurs in the Senate. Article I, Section 3 grants the Senate the ‘sole power to try all impeachments’. This means that once the House has voted to Impeach, the trial will occur in the Senate.

For a trial to take place, there are some constitutional requirements that must be met. First, all senators must take an oath, which states the importance of the procedure that they are undertaking. Second, if the President is being impeached then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides, otherwise it is the Vice President. Finally, any vote must have a super majority set at two thirds of the Senate.

The Senate will then try the accused and vote on their fate. The Senate may remove someone from office, and then the official is likely to face criminal charges where appropriate. A president cannot pardon anyone who has been the subject of a ‘successful’ impeachment, but they may pardon the criminal trial should they have also had this.

The Senate has successfully carried out 18 trials, it would be 19, but the Senate refused to try on of their own.

Impeachment by Numbers

Of the 19 successful impeachments there has been 13 district court judges, one Court of Appeals Judge, one Supreme Court Justice, one Cabinet Secretary, one US Senator and two US Presidents. Out of the 19, only 8 have resulted in ‘conviction’.

Significant Impeachments

1998 – President Bill Clinton

The House voted to impeach President Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The charges were handed down in the wake of the Monika Lewinsky affair. However despite votes for impeachment, the Senate did not vote to remove Clinton from Office.

1868 – President Andrew Johnson

The House voted to impeach Johnson with the charge of ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ over the removal of officials from posts. The Senate conducting the trial voted for acquittal three days later. However, Johnson was only acquitted as the votes fell below the two thirds majority by one vote.

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