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Monday, January 3, 2011

Impeachment: An Overview of Constitutional Provisions, Procedure, and Practice

Elizabeth B. Bazan
Legislative Attorney

For the first time since the judicial impeachments of 1986-1989, the House of Representatives has impeached two federal judges. On June 19, 2009, the House voted to impeach U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The impeachment trial of Judge Kent before the Senate was dismissed after Judge Kent resigned from office and the House indicated that it did not wish to pursue the matter further.

The impeachment inquiry with respect to U.S. District Court Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., from the Eastern District of Louisiana was initiated in the 110
th Congress and continued in the 111th Congress. H.Res. 1031, a resolution impeaching Judge Porteous for high crimes and misdemeanors, was introduced on January 21, 2010. On March 11, 2010, the House impeached Judge Porteous. In four unanimous votes, the House approved each of four articles of impeachment, then agreed to the impeachment resolution by a voice vote. On March 17, 2010, the House Managers presented these articles of impeachment before the bar of the Senate. Pursuant to S.Res. 457, the Senate issued a summons to Judge Porteous to respond to the articles of impeachment. Under S.Res. 458, the Senate created an Impeachment Trial Committee to take and report evidence in the case. After completing its work, the committee submitted a certified record of its proceedings to the Senate and filed its report summarizing the articles of impeachment and the evidence received. On December 7, 2010, the full Senate heard arguments on pending motions and on the merits of the case, then went into closed door deliberations on the motions and the articles of impeachment. On December 8, 2010, the Senate, sitting as a Court of Impeachment, voted to convict Judge Porteous on all four of the articles of impeachment brought against him. A judgment of removal from office flowed automatically from his conviction. In a rare additional judgment, the Senate disqualified him from holding federal office in the future.

The impeachment process provides a mechanism for removal of the President, Vice President, and other federal civil officers found to have engaged in “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The Constitution places the responsibility and authority to determine whether to impeach and to draft articles of impeachment in the hands of the House of Representatives. Should the House vote to impeach and vote articles of impeachment specifying the grounds upon which impeachment is based, the matter is then presented to the Senate for trial. Under the Constitution, the Senate has the sole power to try an impeachment. The decision whether to convict on each of the articles must be made separately. A conviction must be supported by a two-thirds majority of the Senators present. A conviction on any one of the articles of impeachment brought against an individual is sufficient to constitute conviction in the trial of the impeachment. Should a conviction occur, the Senate must determine what the appropriate judgment is in the case. The Constitution limits the judgment to either removal from office or removal and prohibition against holding any future offices of “honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” Under the precedents in the Senate since 1936, removal from office flows automatically from conviction on an article of impeachment. However, a separate vote is necessary should the Senate deem it appropriate to disqualify the individual convicted from holding future federal offices of public trust. Such a vote requires a simple majority. Conviction on impeachment does not foreclose the possibility of criminal prosecution arising out of the same factual situation. The Constitution does not permit the President to extend executive clemency to anyone in order to preclude his or her impeachment by the House or trial or conviction by the Senate. The President has no power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States in cases of impeachment.

Date of Report: December 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 35
Order Number: 98-186
Price: $29.95

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