Updated: Jun 9, 2020
With the recent developments concerning the impeachment of Donald Trump, what better time for a refresher course in Constitutional Law and the parameters surrounding the process of impeachment, and the validity of the President’s claim that he would simply pardon himself if he were to be impeached. We are here to unpack all of it.
Article One of the U.S. Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power of impeachment and the Senate the sole power to try impeachments of officers of the U.S. federal government. (most State constitutions include similar measures, allowing the state legislature to impeach the governor or other officials of the state government.) From a more practical perspective, the House serves as a Grand Jury; they essentially vote on a determination as to whether there is sufficient evidence and probable cause to proceed with impeachment proceedings (“Articles of Impeachment”), i.e. whether or not the Defendant should be indicted based on the strength of the evidence pertaining to their alleged crimes.
Curiously enough, the House of Representatives has initiated impeachment proceedings only 64 times since 1789; and only 19 of those actually resulted in the House's passing Articles of Impeachment, of which only eight (8) of actually resulted in removal from office – and ALL were federal judges. You may be asking why a Federal Judge would be subject to constitutional impeachment. Unlike State court judges, Federal Judges are the recipients of a lifetime appointment, and the purpose for granting them a lifetime appointment is to encourage Federal Judges to rule impartially and unbiased by not subjecting them to the rigors and inherent political pressures of having to run for re-election, which State court Judges must do repeatedly to retain their elected position. Consequently; when a Federal Judge has committed an offense, the Government cannot rely on the next election cycle to democratically remove them from the bench, impeachment is the necessary and appropriate means of removing them from office.
Once the House has voted to affirmatively to move forward with impeachment proceedings, it is the Senate that then serves as the Jury during the “trial” phase of the impeachment process. It is here that the impeachment proceedings mirror that of an actual public trial. Members of the Senate will preside over the matter, and both respective sides will put on their case-in-chief where they call witnesses, give testimony, and submit evidence in support of their position. Ultimately; however, impeachment requires a 2/3rd Senate majority vote in favor of impeachment. With regards to the current impeachment of Donald Trump, it is quite clear from the outset that the Republican-controlled Senate will not allow the President to be impeached, and the Democratic-led crusade to see the President impeached is little more than saber rattling and political grandstanding that is calculated to fail, and purely to appease their own constituents.