January 26, 2018
Introducing… The Week in Impeachment
by Barbara A. Radnofsky
When I wrote A Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment, my goal was a simple one: to fill out the gaps in people’s knowledge about the procedures our Constitution provides for removing an official—say, the president—from office. It’s common knowledge that these procedures exist—many of us can remember the impeachment of Bill Clinton, more than a few the impeachment that was about to proceed against Richard Nixon when he instead resigned the presidency—but a detailed understanding of how they work, and of how they might look in the case of our deeply unpopular current president, is more elusive.
Every case of presidential impeachment must focus on whether the president has harmed us. The Founding Fathers wanted to protect the United States from the possibility of a poorly performing president, and created the impeachment process as a mechanism by which Congress could remove such a president. The removal of a president by impeachment requires a demonstration of neither law-breaking nor ill intent. What it does require is a showing that a president has worked substantial harm to our country, its people, or the functioning of government.
When the House of Representatives drafts Articles of Impeachment, they may articulate grounds and marshal evidence in different ways, sometimes repeating or rephrasing a single charge in more than one article. If a majority of the House votes yes on any article, the president is impeached, and will be brought to trial in the Senate, where the House “Managers” prosecute the case. In the end, senators vote for conviction or acquittal, on each article the House has approved.
Diligence and accuracy in gathering evidence for impeachment charges are of the utmost importance. House Managers would require great discernment in prevailing on the judgment of 100 senator-jurors (who will not necessarily share the same points of view). The House must use their research, writing, and rhetorical skills in presenting Articles of Impeachment, some of which may be short, others which might be aggregations and very long. What every Article of Impeachment against a sitting president should have in common is the allegation that particular presidential acts or omissions have caused significant harm.
In this new, weekly series, I’ll provide brief, current examples, analyzing recent news in language Congress might use to draft impeachment Articles.
In the record of the debates that preceded the ratification of the US Constitution, it’s recorded that Founding Father James Madison “thought it indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the community against the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief magistrate. The limitation of the period of the service was not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might convert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression, he might betray his trust to foreign powers…”
Barbara Ann Radnofsky is a mother, wife, teacher, mediator and arbitrator. A lawyer since 1979, she was the first woman Texas Democratic U.S. Senate nominee and later the first woman Texas Democratic Attorney General nominee. A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Houston and the University of Texas School of Law, she was honored as the Outstanding Young Lawyer of Texas in 1988 and has been listed for more than 25 years in “Best Lawyers in America" in multiple areas. She lives in Houston, where she is one of many co-owners of the Brazos Bookstore, and is the author of A Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment, available now. Follow her at @TXBarbaraAnn!