The politics and practicalities of impeachment

The politics and practicalities of impeachment

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) declaration that she is “not for impeachment” was met with defiance in some quarters of the Democratic caucus and howls from the instant experts on cable news.

Some saw a dereliction of Constitutional duty, summed up by Rep. John Yarmuth’s (D-Ky.) claim that the failure to use impeachment against a president this lawless renders the constitutional tool “meaningless.” On a recent Sunday show, ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos incredulously asked if the decision meant impeachment was “simply political?” As though there would be something wrong if it were.

The idea that impeachment must be automatic anytime a member of Congress or a majority of Congress believes the president has committed impeachable offenses is simply wrong. It ignores the way our Constitutional framers ingrained politics into the very design of impeachment and intended the choice whether or not to impeach to require many extra-legal considerations.

The framers hotly debated whether the Supreme Court should adjudicate impeachment so the president would not be subject solely to the judgment of the legislative branch or if impeachment trials should occur in the Senate, which was more representative of the breadth of the nation and more attuned to the practical and political impact of removing the Chief Executive.

Alexander Hamilton explained why the latter view prevailed in Federalist 65. In contrast with run of the mill lawbreaking, he wrote, impeachment offenses are by their very nature “POLITICAL” – generally involving a breach of the public trust or an abuse of the powers of office. And the consequences of impeachment and conviction are themselves fundamentally political – a convicted official doesn’t go to jail, he or she is simply removed from office.

Once given to politicians, Hamilton acknowledged that political considerations would come into play including “animosities, partialities, influence, and interest.” Hence the…

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