The United States Constitution provides impeachment powers for Congress. These powers allow them to put certain government officials on trial and remove them from office. When an official is impeached, he or she isn’t removed from office immediately – that’s a separate step in the procedure.
The process is like a trial, but it takes place in the Congress instead of the courts. As a result the impeachment process is a blend of law and partisan politics and can take many, many months.
Who can be impeached?
According to the Constitution, “the president, vice president and all civil officers of the United States” can be removed from power. There have been 19 Federal impeachment proceedings in the U.S., which resulted in seven acquittals, eight convictions, three dismissals and one resignation.
How does it work?
The U.S. House of Representatives is the only body with the authority to start the impeach process, and the Senate is the only body with the ability to convict and remove him or her. Articles of impeachment (“the charges”) can be brought by any member of the House of Representatives. Most often, it is the House Judiciary Committee that is tasked with investigating the allegations. Unlike the Senate, the House only needs a simple majority vote to approve Articles of impeachment.
If the House votes to impeach the official, the case is tried in the Senate. Each side can call witnesses and present evidence, and the official charged with wrongdoing can defend himself with his own lawyers. When Articles of Impeachment are brought against the President, then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the trial. In other cases, the Vice President of the United States does, as he is technically the “President of the Senate.” No matter who is tried, the Senate requires a two-thirds majority to return a guilty verdict guilty and remove the impeached official from office.
What are the grounds for impeachment?
Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution states that officials can be impeached and removed from office if convicted of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” “High crimes and misdemeanors” is the broadest and least defined category and has been the subject of intense debate over the years. In 1970, Articles of Impeachment were brought against Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Former President Gerald Ford was serving as a member of the House at that time and famously said, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
Which Presidents have been impeached?
Although two Presidents were the subject of impeachment proceedings, neither was convicted or removed from office. President Richard Nixon, faced impeachment over the 1972 Watergate scandal, but resigned before the process was completed. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached but later acquitted by the Senate by one vote. In 1998, President Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath while testifying on sexual-harassment charges filed against him. He was acquitted by 17 votes.
Can things done before the official was in office be grounds for impeachment?
Since impeachment acts as a constitutional check on a public official’s use of power, Congress typically considers an elected official’s actions while performing his or her duties in office, not things that took place before or after he or she was elected. However, no clear answer exists. Depending upon the nature of the conduct and whether it directly implicates the office held, conduct that occurred before the official took office could be the basis for impeachment proceedings.