Jacob Neiheisel, assistant professor answers five questions about how impeachment works in the US
Editor’s Note: Impeachment is a predominantly legislative process currently followed in several dozen countries, including Brazil, South Korea and the Philippines. “Impeach” has roots in the Latin word for being caught. It allows members of the legislature to indict, or charge, an official with criminal activity. The official will be removed from office only if convicted. The Conversation
Jacob Neiheisel, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, SUNY answers five questions about how impeachment works in the United States.
- What sort of crime can lead to impeachment? The U.S. Constitution states that the president, as well as the “Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States” can be removed from office, after being both impeached and convicted, for “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Treason and bribery are straightforward, but what exactly constitutes a “High Crime” or “Misdemeanor” has always been open to interpretation. Although not the formal reason, scholars argue Andrew Johnson, the first American president to be impeached, was targeted because of his “soft” approach to states of the former Confederacy during Reconstruction. The official reason was his violation of the Tenure of Office Act – which was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Articles of impeachment were brought against Bill Clinton for perjury (lying under oath) and obstruction of justice, but there is little doubt that there were also partisan motivations behind the charges.
Even Alexander Hamilton expected the process of impeachment to be overtly political. President Gerald Ford put the matter bluntly when he described an impeachable offense as “Whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
- How does the process work? Removing a president – or other federal officer – from office happens in stages.
The process begins with a vote on one or more articles of impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee. If approved, the articles of impeachment are brought to a vote in the full House.(read more)