September 12, 2017
Out today: A Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment
by Melville House
As we asked last week: Have you, uh… read the news lately?
If you have, you’ve probably come across one word: Impeachment. As our president continues to astonish and worry observers all over the world, talk of how he can be removed from office has built from a whisper to a roar.
More than at perhaps any moment in our history, the US today needs dispassionate, expert voices that can explain, clearly and precisely, what impeachment is, how it works, and how it got into the US Consitution.
Enter Barbara A. Radnofsky. With nearly four decades of experience practicing law, Barbara is also the first woman ever to run in Texas as the Democratic nominee for US Senate or state Attorney General. She’s an expert in legal practice and history.
Her new book is A Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment, and it’s out today. Non-partisan, exhaustive, and totally down-to-earth, it offers answers to some of our most pressing civic questions.
In fact, we think it’s so important that we’re inviting friends and concerned citizens across the country to join our campaign to put one copy in the hands of every US senator and congressperson. Learn how you can help right here. In the meantime, A Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment is now on sale across the country. Here’s a brief passage from early on to get you excited.
The Birth of the American Impeachment Clause: September 8, 1787
Our Impeachment Clause—particularly the language “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”—was born on September 8, 1787. A “Committee of Eleven” debated an earlier recommendation of a very narrow impeachment clause, with removal from office only for treason and bribery. The framers well knew the importance of every word of the clause as they debated; they recognized they were writing for posterity.
The stage was set to determine if a category should be added for wrongdoing other than treason and bribery. George Mason of Virginia, an important and consistent champion throughout the Convention of the need for impeachment, became a key speaker in this historic debate. Mason fought adamantly for impeachment. He sought earlier in the Convention to advocate for impeachment as a method to minimize the risk of electoral corruption; the fact that voters could make their own choice in reelection would not suffice. Mason had declared that “no point is of more importance” than the retaining of impeachment in the Constitution.
In the final debate of September 8, Mason referenced the British government’s ongoing impeachment trial of India Governor-General Hastings, whose alleged wrongdoings would never fit within the U.S. proposed categories of treason and bribery. Using the Hastings case as an example, Mason famously argued that limiting the Impeachment Clause to only bribery and treason “will not reach many great and dangerous offenses.” He then moved to add “maladministration” to the impeachment language. James Madison commented on the overbreadth of the word, which would allow the Senate—at their pleasure—to remove an official for any act of maladministration: “So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.” Mason withdrew his overbroad term and substituted the phrase “other high crimes and misdemeanors,” the very impeachment language used in the Hastings trial. Thus was born the most fundamental phrase in American impeachment law. But it would not become the supreme law of the land unless and until state ratifying conventions decided to ratify the Constitution.
A Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment is on sale now. Buy your copy here, or at your neighborhood independent bookstore.