Impeachment in the United States

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The 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding. Senate in session.jpg
The 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding.

Impeachment in the United States is the process by which the lower house of a legislature brings charges against a civil officer of government for crimes alleged to have been committed, analogous to the bringing of an indictment by a grand jury. At the federal level, this is at the discretion of the House of Representatives. Most impeachments have concerned alleged crimes committed while in office, though there have been a few cases in which officials have been impeached and subsequently convicted for crimes committed prior to taking office. [1] The impeached official remains in office until a trial is held. That trial, and their removal from office if convicted, is separate from the act of impeachment itself. Analogous to a trial before a judge and jury, these proceedings are (where the legislature is bicameral) conducted by upper house of the legislature, which at the federal level is the Senate.

A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.

A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a country or city. Legislatures form important parts of most governments; in the separation of powers model, they are often contrasted with the executive and judicial branches of government.

In general, a civilian is "a person who is not a member of the military or of a police or firefighting force". The definition distinguishes from persons whose duties involves risking their lives to protect the public at large from hazardous situations such as terrorism, riots, conflagrations, or wars. "Criminals" are also excluded from the category.

Impeachment may occur at the federal level or the state level. The federal House can impeach federal officials, and each state's legislature can impeach state officials, including the governor, in accordance with their respective federal or state constitution.

Federal government of the United States National government of the United States

The federal government of the United States is the national government of the United States, a federal republic in North America, composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories and several island possessions. The federal government is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive and judicial, whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution in the Congress, the president and the federal courts, respectively. The powers and duties of these branches are further defined by acts of Congress, including the creation of executive departments and courts inferior to the Supreme Court.

State governments of the United States state-level governments of the 50 states which comprise the United States of America

State governments of the United States are institutional units in the United States exercising some of the functions of government at a level below that of the federal government. Each state's government holds legislative, executive, and judicial authority over a defined geographic territory. The United States comprises 50 states: 13 that were already part of the United States at the time the present Constitution took effect in 1789, plus 37 that have been admitted since by Congress as authorized under Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders. Four states use the term commonwealth rather than state in their full official names.

Federal impeachment

Constitutional provisions

The House of Representatives ... shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Article I, Section 2, Clause 5

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Article I, Section 3, Clauses 6 and 7

[The President} … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

Article II, Section 2

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

President of the United States Head of state and of government of the United States

The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Vice President of the United States Second highest executive office in United States

The vice president of the United States is the second-highest officer in the executive branch of the U.S. federal government, after the president of the United States, and ranks first in the presidential line of succession. The vice president is also an officer in the legislative branch, as President of the Senate. In this capacity, the vice president presides over Senate deliberations, but may not vote except to cast a tie-breaking vote. The vice president also presides over joint sessions of Congress.

Treason Crime against ones sovereign or nation

In law, treason is criminal disloyalty to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.

Article II, Section 4

See also

Impeachable offenses: "High Crimes and Misdemeanors"

see also High Crimes and Misdemeanors

The Constitution limits grounds of impeachment to "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors". [3] The precise meaning of the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" is not defined in the Constitution itself.

The notion that only criminal conduct can constitute sufficient grounds for impeachment does not comport with either the views of the founders or with historical practice. [1] Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 65, described impeachable offenses as arising from “the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” [4] Such offenses were “political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” [4] According to this reasoning, impeachable conduct could include behavior that violates an official’s duty to the country, even if such conduct is not necessarily a prosecutable offense. Indeed, in the past both houses of Congress have given the phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” a broad reading, “finding that impeachable offenses need not be limited to criminal conduct.” [5] [1]

The purposes underlying the impeachment process also indicate that non-criminal activity may constitute sufficient grounds for impeachment. [1] [6] The purpose of impeachment is not to inflict personal punishment for criminal activity. Instead, impeachment is a “remedial” tool; it serves to effectively “maintain constitutional government” by removing individuals unfit for office. [7] [1] Grounds for impeachment include abuse of the particular powers of government office or a violation of the “public trust”—conduct that is unlikely to be barred via statute. [7] [5] [1]

In drawing up articles of impeachment, the House has placed little emphasis on criminal conduct. [1] Less than one third of the articles that the House have adopted have explicitly charged the violation of a criminal statute or used the word “criminal” or “crime” to describe the conduct alleged. [1] Officials have been impeached and removed for drunkenness, biased decision-making, or inducing parties to enter financial transactions, none of which is specifically criminal. [1] Two of the articles against Andrew Johnson were based on rude speech that reflected badly on the office: President Johnson had made “harangues” criticizing the Congress and questioning its legislative authority, refusing to follow laws, and diverting funds allocated in an army appropriations act, each of which brought the presidency “into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace.” [8] A number of individuals have been impeached for behavior incompatible with the nature of the office they hold. [1] Some impeachments have addressed, at least in part, conduct before the individuals assumed their positions: for example, Article IV against Judge Porteous related to false statements to the FBI and Senate in connection with his nomination and confirmation to the court. [1]

On the other hand, the Constitutional Convention rejected language that would have permitted impeachment for "maladministration," with Madison arguing that "[s]o vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate." [9]

Congressional materials have cautioned that the grounds for impeachment “do not all fit neatly and logically into categories” because the remedy of impeachment is intended to “reach a broad variety of conduct by officers that is both serious and incompatible with the duties of the office.” [7] [1] Congress has identified three general types of conduct that constitute grounds for impeachment, although these categories should not be understood as exhaustive:

(1) improperly exceeding or abusing the powers of the office;
(2) behavior incompatible with the function and purpose of the office; and
(3) misusing the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain. [7] [1]

Conversely, not all criminal conduct is impeachable: in 1974, the Judiciary Committee rejected an article of impeachment against President Nixon alleging that he committed tax fraud, primarily because that “related to the President’s private conduct, not to an abuse of his authority as President.” [1]

Several commentators have suggested that Congress alone may decide for itself what constitutes a "high crime or misdemeanor", especially since the Supreme Court decided in Nixon v. United States that it did not have the authority to determine whether the Senate properly "tried" a defendant. [10] In 1970, then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford defined the criterion as he saw it: "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history." [11]

Of the 17 impeachments voted by the House:

The standard of proof required for impeachment and conviction is also left to the discretion of individual Representatives and Senators, respectively. Defendants have argued that impeachment trials are in the nature of criminal proceedings, with convictions carrying grave consequences for the accused, and that therefore proof beyond a reasonable doubt should be the applicable standard. House Managers have argued that a lower standard would be appropriate to better serve the purpose of defending the community against abuse of power, since the defendant does not risk forfeiture of life, liberty, or property. [12]

Officers subject to impeachment: "civil officers of the United States"

The Constitution gives Congress the authority to impeach and remove the "The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States" upon a determination that such officers have engaged in treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The Constitution does not articulate who qualifies as a “civil officer of the United States.” [13]

Federal judges are subject to impeachment. In fact, 15 of 19 officers impeached, and all eight officers removed after Senate trial, have been judges.

Within the executive branch, any Presidentially-appointed "principal officer," including a head of an agency such as a Secretary, Administrator, or Commissioner, is a "civil officer of the United States" subject to impeachment. [1] At the opposite end of the spectrum, lesser functionaries, such as federal civil service employees, do not exercise “significant authority,” and are not appointed by the President or an agency head. These employees do not appear to be subject to impeachment, though that may be a matter of allocation of House floor debate time by the Speaker, rather than a matter of law.

The Senate has concluded that members of Congress (Representatives and Senators) are not "civil officers" for purposes of impeachment. [14] As a practical matter, expulsion is effected by the simpler procedures of Article I, Section 5, which provides "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members... Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member." (see List of United States senators expelled or censured and List of United States Representatives expelled, censured, or reprimanded ). This allows each House to expel its own members without involving the other chamber. In 1797, the House of Representatives impeached Senator William Blount of Tennessee, [15] The Senate expelled Sen. Blount under Art. I sec. 5 on the same day. However, the impeachment proceeding remained pending (expulsion only removes the individual from office, but removal after impeachment bars the individual from holding future office, so the question of further punishment remained to be decided). After four days of debate, the Senate concluded that a Senator is not a "civil officer of the United States" for purposes of the Impeachment clause, and dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. [14] [16] The House has not impeached a Member of Congress since Blount.


At the federal level, the impeachment process is a three-step procedure.


A number of rules have been adopted by the House and Senate, and are honored by tradition.

Jefferson's Manual, which is integral to the Rules of the House of Representatives, [17] states that impeachment is set in motion by charges made on the floor, charges proferred by a memorial, a member's resolution referred to a committee, a message from the president, or from facts developed and reported by an investigating committee of the House. It further states that a proposition to impeach is a question of high privilege in the House and at once supersedes business otherwise in order under the rules governing the order of business.

The House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House [18] is a reference source for information on the rules and selected precedents governing the House procedure, prepared by the House Parliamentarian. The manual has a chapter on the House's rules, procedures, and precedent for impeachment.

In 1974, as part of the preliminary investigation in the Nixon impeachment inquiry, the staff of the Impeachment Inquiry of the House Judiciary Committee prepared a report, Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment. [7] The primary focus of the Report is the definition of the term "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" and the relationship to criminality, which the Report traces through history from English roots, through the debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the history of the impeachments before 1974.

The 1974 report has been expanded and revised on several occasions by the Congressional Research Service, and the current version Impeachment and Removal dates from October 2015. [1] While this document is only staff recommendation, as a practical matter, today it is probably the single most influential definition of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

The Senate has formal "Rules and Procedures of Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials." [19]

Calls for impeachment, and Congressional power to investigate

While the actual impeachment of a federal public official is a rare event, demands for impeachment, especially of presidents, are common, [20] [21] going back to the administration of George Washington in the mid-1790s.

While almost all of them were for the most part frivolous and were buried as soon as they were introduced, several did have their intended effect. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon [22] and Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas both resigned in response to the threat of impeachment hearings, and, most famously, President Richard Nixon resigned from office after the House Judiciary Committee had already reported articles of impeachment to the floor.

In advance of the formal resolution by the full House, the relevant committee may investigate, subpoena witnesses, and prepare a preliminary report of findings. For example:

Targets of congressional investigations have challenged the power of Congress to investigate before a formal resolution commences impeachment proceedings. For example, President Buchanan wrote to the committee investigating his administration:

I do, therefore, ... solemnly protest against these proceedings of the House of Representatives, because they are in violation of the rights of the coordinate executive branch of the Government, and subversive of its constitutional independence; because they are calculated to foster a band of interested parasites and informers, ever ready, for their own advantage, to swear before ex parte committees to pretended private conversations between the President and themselves, incapable, from their nature, of being disproved; thus furnishing material for harassing him, degrading him in the eyes of the country . . . [24]

He maintained that the House of Representatives possessed no general powers to investigate him, except when sitting as an impeaching body.

When the Supreme Court has considered similar issues, it held that the power to secure “needed information ... has long been treated as an attribute of the power to legislate. ... [The power to investigate is deeply rooted in the nation’s history:] It was so regarded in the British Parliament and in the colonial Legislatures before the American Revolution, and a like view has prevailed and been carried into effect in both houses of Congress and in most of the state Legislatures.” McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135, 161 (1927). The Supreme Court also held, “There can be no doubt as to the power of Congress, by itself or through its committees, to investigate matters and conditions relating to contemplated legislation.” Quinn v. United States, 349 U.S. 155, 160 (1955).

The Supreme Court has also explained that Congress has not only the power, but the duty, to investigate so it can inform the public of the operations of government:

It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government and to talk much about what it sees. It is meant to be the eyes and the voice, and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents. Unless Congress have and use every means of acquainting itself with the acts and the disposition of the administrative agents of the government, the country must be helpless to learn how it is being served; and unless Congress both scrutinize these things and sift them by every form of discussion, the country must remain in embarrassing, crippling ignorance of the very affairs which it is most important that it should understand and direct. The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function. [25]

House of Representatives: Impeachment

Impeachment proceedings may be requested by a member of the House of Representatives on his or her own initiative, either by presenting a list of the charges under oath or by asking for referral to the appropriate committee. The impeachment process may be requested by non-members. For example, when the Judicial Conference of the United States suggests a federal judge be impeached, a charge of actions constituting grounds for impeachment may come from a special prosecutor, the President, or state or territorial legislature, grand jury, or by petition. An impeachment proceeding formally begins with a resolution adopted by the full House of Representatives, which typically includes a referral to a House committee.

The type of impeachment resolution determines the committee to which it is referred. A resolution impeaching a particular individual is typically referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. A resolution to authorize an investigation regarding impeachable conduct is referred to the House Committee on Rules, and then to the Judiciary Committee. The House Committee on the Judiciary, by majority vote, will determine whether grounds for impeachment exist. If the Committee finds grounds for impeachment, it will set forth specific allegations of misconduct in one or more articles of impeachment. The Impeachment Resolution, or Articles of Impeachment, are then reported to the full House with the committee's recommendations.

The House debates the resolution and may at the conclusion consider the resolution as a whole or vote on each article of impeachment individually. A simple majority of those present and voting is required for each article for the resolution as a whole to pass. If the House votes to impeach, managers (typically referred to as "House managers", with a "lead House manager") are selected to present the case to the Senate. Recently, managers have been selected by resolution, while historically the House would occasionally elect the managers or pass a resolution allowing the appointment of managers at the discretion of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. These managers are roughly the equivalent of the prosecution or district attorney in a standard criminal trial.

Also, the House will adopt a resolution in order to notify the Senate of its action. After receiving the notice, the Senate will adopt an order notifying the House that it is ready to receive the managers. The House managers then appear before the bar of the Senate and exhibit the articles of impeachment. After the reading of the charges, the managers return and make a verbal report to the House.

Senate: Trial

Depiction of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding. Andrew Johnson impeachment trial.jpg
Depiction of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding.

The proceedings unfold in the form of a trial, with each side having the right to call witnesses and perform cross-examinations. The House members, who are given the collective title of managers during the course of the trial, present the prosecution case, and the impeached official has the right to mount a defense with his or her own attorneys as well. Senators must also take an oath or affirmation that they will perform their duties honestly and with due diligence. After hearing the charges, the Senate usually deliberates in private. The Constitution requires a two-thirds super majority to convict a person being impeached. [26] The Senate enters judgment on its decision, whether that be to convict or acquit, and a copy of the judgment is filed with the Secretary of State. [19] Upon conviction in the Senate, the official is automatically removed from office and may also be barred from holding future office. The trial is not an actual criminal proceeding and more closely resembles a civil service termination appeal in terms of the contemplated deprivation. Therefore, the removed official may still be liable to criminal prosecution under a subsequent criminal proceeding. The President may not grant a pardon in the impeachment case, but may in any resulting Federal criminal case. [27]

Beginning in the 1980s with Harry E. Claiborne, the Senate began using "Impeachment Trial Committees" pursuant to Senate Rule XI. [19] These committees presided over the evidentiary phase of the trials, hearing the evidence and supervising the examination and cross-examination of witnesses. The committees would then compile the evidentiary record and present it to the Senate; all senators would then have the opportunity to review the evidence before the chamber voted to convict or acquit. The purpose of the committees was to streamline impeachment trials, which otherwise would have taken up a great deal of the chamber's time. Defendants challenged the use of these committees, claiming them to be a violation of their fair trial rights as this did not meet the constitutional requirement for their cases to be "tried by the Senate". Several impeached judges, including District Court Judge Walter Nixon, sought court intervention in their impeachment proceedings on these grounds. In Nixon v. United States (1993), the Supreme Court determined that the federal judiciary could not review such proceedings, as matters related to impeachment trials are political questions and could not be resolved in the courts. [2]

In theory at least, as President of the Senate, the Vice President of the United States could preside over their own impeachment, although legal theories suggest that allowing a defendant to be the judge in their own case would be a blatant conflict of interest. If the Vice President did not preside over an impeachment (of anyone besides the President), the duties would fall to the President pro tempore of the Senate.

To convict an accused, "the concurrence of two thirds of the [Senators] present" for at least one article is required. If there is no single charge commanding a "guilty" vote of two-thirds majority of the senators present, the defendant is acquitted and no punishment is imposed.

Results of conviction

Conviction removes the defendant from office. Following conviction, the Senate may vote to further punish the individual by barring him or her from holding future federal office, elected or appointed. However, conviction does not extend to further punishment, for example, loss of pension. After conviction by the Senate, "the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law" in the regular federal or state courts.

History of federal constitutional impeachment

In the United Kingdom, impeachment was a procedure whereby a member of the House of Commons could accuse someone of a crime. If the Commons voted for the impeachment, a trial would then be held in the House of Lords. Unlike a bill of attainder, a law declaring a person guilty of a crime, impeachments did not require royal assent, so they could be used to remove troublesome officers of the Crown even if the monarch was trying to protect them.

The monarch, however, was above the law and could not be impeached, or indeed judged guilty of any crime. When King Charles I was tried before the Rump Parliament of the New Model Army in 1649 he denied that they had any right to legally indict him, their king, whose power was given by God and the laws of the country, saying: "no earthly power can justly call me (who is your King) in question as a delinquent ... no learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King." While the House of Commons pronounced him guilty and ordered his execution anyway, the jurisdictional issue tainted the proceedings.

With this example in mind, the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention chose to include an impeachment procedure in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution which could be applied to any government official; they explicitly mentioned the President to ensure there would be no ambiguity. Opinions differed, however, as to the reasons Congress should be able to initiate an impeachment. Initial drafts listed only treason and bribery, but George Mason favored impeachment for "maladministration" (incompetence). James Madison argued that impeachment should only be for criminal behavior, arguing that a maladministration standard would effectively mean that the President would serve at the pleasure of the Senate. [28] Thus the delegates adopted a compromise version allowing impeachment for "treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors".

Federal impeachment investigations formally commenced and officials impeached

The House of Representatives has initiated impeachment proceedings 62 times since 1789.[ citation needed ]

The House has impeached 19 federal officers. Of these:

Of the 19 impeachments by the House, two cases did not come to trial because the individuals had left office, seven were acquitted, and eight officials were convicted, all of whom were judges. [30] [31] One, former judge Alcee Hastings, was elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives after being removed from office.

Additionally, an impeachment process against Richard Nixon was commenced, but not completed, as he resigned from office before the full House voted on the articles of impeachment. [2] To date, no president has been removed from office by impeachment and conviction.

The following table lists federal officials for whom impeachment proceedings were instituted and referred to a committee of the House of Representatives. Numbered lines of the table reflect officials impeached by a majority vote of the House. Unnumbered lines are those officials for whom an impeachment proceeding was formally instituted, but ended when (a) the Committee did not vote to recommend impeachment, (b) the Committee recommended impeachment but the vote in the full House failed, or (c) the official resigned or died before the full House vote.

#Date of ImpeachmentAccusedOfficeAccusationsResult [Note 1] Refer­ences
1July 7, 1797 William-blount-wb-cooper.jpg William Blount United States Senator (Tennessee)Conspiring to assist Britain in capturing Spanish territorySenate refused to accept impeachment of a Senator by the House of Representatives, instead expelling him from the Senate on their own authority [32] [Note 2] [33]
2March 2, 1803 John Pickering Judge (District of New Hampshire)Drunkenness and unlawful rulingsConvicted; removed on March 12, 1804 [32] [34] [33] [34]
3March 12, 1804 Samuel Chase (bust crop).jpg Samuel Chase Associate Justice (Supreme Court of the United States)Political bias and arbitrary rulings, promoting a partisan political agenda on the bench [35] Acquitted on March 1, 1805 [32] [34]
4April 24, 1830 JamesHPeck.jpg James H. Peck Judge (District of Missouri) Abuse of power [36] Acquitted on January 31, 1831 [32] [34] [33] [34]
March to June 1860 James Buchanan President of the United States corruption The Covode committee was established March 5, 1860, and submitted its final report on June 16, 1860. The committee found that Buchanan had not done anything to warrant impeachment, but that his was the most corrupt administration since the adoption of the US Constitution in 1789. [37] [38]
5May 6, 1862 West Hughes Humphreys.jpg West Hughes Humphreys Judge (Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts of Tennessee)Supporting the ConfederacyConvicted; removed and disqualified on June 26, 1862 [33] [32] [34] [33] [34]
6February 24, 1868 by a 126 to 47 vote President Andrew Johnson.jpg Andrew Johnson President of the United States Violating the Tenure of Office Act. The Supreme Court would later state in dicta that the (by then repealed) Tenure of Office Act had been unconstitutional. [39] Acquitted on May 26, 1868, 35–19 in favor of conviction, falling one vote short of two-thirds. [32] Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, [33]
7February 28, 1873 Mark W. Delahay.jpg Mark W. Delahay Judge (District of Kansas)DrunkennessResigned on December 12, 1873 [34] [40] [34] [40]
8March 2, 1876 WWBelknap.jpg William W. Belknap United States Secretary of War (resigned after impeachment and before trial)Graft, corruptionAcquitted after his resignation on August 1, 1876. [32] [33]
9December 13, 1904 Charles Swayne Judge (Northern District of Florida)Failure to live in his district, abuse of power [41] Acquitted on February 27, 1905 [32] [34] [33] [34]
10July 11, 1912 Robert W. Archbald cph.3a03594 (bust crop).jpg Robert Wodrow Archbald Associate Justice (United States Commerce Court)
Judge (Third Circuit Court of Appeals)
Improper acceptance of gifts from litigants and attorneysConvicted; removed and disqualified on January 13, 1913 [33] [32] [34] [33] [34]
11April 1, 1926 George W. English cph.3a03600.jpg George W. English Judge (Eastern District of Illinois)Abuse of powerResigned on November 4, 1926, [33] [32] proceedings dismissed on December 13, 1926 [33] [34] [33] [34]
12February 24, 1933 Harold Louderback Judge (Northern District of California)CorruptionAcquitted on May 24, 1933 [32] [34] [33] [34]
13March 2, 1936 Halsted L. Ritter Judge (Southern District of Florida) Champerty, corruption, tax evasion, practicing law while a judgeConvicted; removed on April 17, 1936 [32] [34] [33] [34]
1953 William O. Douglas Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Courtbrief stay of execution for Julius and Ethel RosenbergReferred to Judiciary Committee (Jun. 18, 1953); committee voted to end the investigation (Jul 7, 1953).
1970 William O. Douglas Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme CourtFailure to recuse on obscenity cases while at the same time having articles published in Playboy and Avant-Garde magazines; conflict of paid board positions with two non-profitsReferred to a special subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee (Apr. 21, 1970); subcommittee voted to end the investigation (Dec. 3, 1970).
preliminary proceedings aborted before impeachment vote, January to August 1974 Richard Nixon presidential portrait.jpg Richard Nixon President of the United States Obstruction of justice, Abuse of Power, Contempt of Congress House Judiciary Committee begins investigating and issuing subpoenas (Oct. 30, 1973); House Judiciary Report on committee investigation (Feb. 1, 1974) [42] ; House resolution 93-803 authorizes Judiciary Committee investigation (Feb. 6, 1974) [43] ; House Judiciary Committee votes three articles of impeachment to House floor (July 27–30, 1974) [44] ; proceedings terminated by resignation of President Nixon (August 8, 1974).
14July 22, 1986 Harry Claiborne (bust crop).jpg Harry E. Claiborne Judge (District of Nevada)Tax evasionRemoved on October 9, 1986 [32] [34] [33] [34]
15August 3, 1988 Alcee Hastings Portrait c111-112th Congress.jpg Alcee Hastings Judge (Southern District of Florida)Accepting a bribe, and committing perjury during the resulting investigationRemoved on October 20, 1989 [32] [34] [33] [34]
16May 10, 1989 Walter Nixon (bust crop).jpg Walter Nixon Chief Judge (Southern District of Mississippi)PerjuryRemoved on November 3, 1989 [32] [34] [Note 3] [33] [34]
17December 19, 1998 Bill Clinton.jpg Bill Clinton President of the United States Perjury and obstruction of justice [45] Acquitted on February 12, 1999--45–55 on obstruction of justice and 50–50 on perjury [32] [46]
18June 19, 2009 KentSamuel.jpg Samuel B. Kent Judge (Southern District of Texas)Sexual assault, and obstruction of justice during the resulting investigationResigned on June 30, 2009, [34] [47] proceedings dismissed on July 22, 2009 [32] [34] [48] [34] [49]
19March 11, 2010 PorteousThomasG.jpg Thomas Porteous Judge (Eastern District of Louisiana)Making false financial disclosuresConvicted, removed and disqualified on December 8, 2010 [32] [34] [50] [34] [51]

There have been unsuccessful attempts to initiate impeachment proceedings against John Tyler, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

One notable impeachment attempt that never reached the point of House resolution was an attempt to impeach Associate Justice William O. Douglas by then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford. The Legislative Reference Service of the Library of Congress prepared a report as part of Mr. Ford's vetting for confirmation as Vice President in 1973. [23]

President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was impeached on December 19, 1998, by the House of Representatives on articles charging perjury (specifically, lying to a federal grand jury) by a 228–206 vote and obstruction of justice by a 221–212 vote. The House rejected other articles: one was a count of perjury in a civil deposition in Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton (by a 205–229 vote); the second accused Clinton of abuse of power (by a 148–285 vote). President Clinton was acquitted by the Senate. The votes in the Senate to remove him from office did not even reach a majority, let alone two-thirds: 45–55 on obstruction of justice and 50–50 on perjury.

See also:

Impeachment in the states

State legislatures can impeach state officials, including governors, in every State except Oregon. The court for the trial of impeachments may differ somewhat from the federal model—in New York, for instance, the Assembly (lower house) impeaches, and the State Senate tries the case, but the members of the seven-judge New York State Court of Appeals (the state's highest, constitutional court) sit with the senators as jurors as well. [52] Impeachment and removal of governors has happened occasionally throughout the history of the United States, usually for corruption charges. A total of at least eleven U.S. state governors have faced an impeachment trial; a twelfth, Governor Lee Cruce of Oklahoma, escaped impeachment conviction by a single vote in 1912. Several others, most recently Missouri's Eric Greitens, have resigned rather than face impeachment, when events seemed to make it inevitable. [53] The most recent impeachment of a state governor occurred on January 14, 2009, when the Illinois House of Representatives voted 117–1 to impeach Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges; [54] he was subsequently removed from office and barred from holding future office by the Illinois Senate on January 29. He was the eighth U.S. state governor to be removed from office.

The procedure for impeachment, or removal, of local officials varies widely. For instance, in New York a mayor is removed directly by the governor "upon being heard" on charges—the law makes no further specification of what charges are necessary or what the governor must find in order to remove a mayor.

In 2018, the entire Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia was impeached, something that has been often threatened, but had never happened before.

State and territorial officials impeached

1804 William W. Irvin.jpg William W. Irvin Associate Judge, Fairfield County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas Removed
1832 Theophilus W. Smith.jpg Theophilus W. Smith Associate Justice, Illinois Supreme Court Acquitted [55]
February 26, 1862 CRobinson.jpg Charles L. Robinson Governor of Kansas Acquitted [56]
John Winter Robinson Secretary of State of Kansas Removed on June 12, 1862 [57]
George S. Hillyer State auditor of Kansas Removed on June 16, 1862 [57]
1871 NCG-WilliamHolden.jpg William Woods Holden Governor of North Carolina Removed
1871 Hon. David Butler. Governor Nebraska - NARA - 528665.jpg David Butler Governor of Nebraska Removed [56]
February 1872 Governor Harrison Reed of Florida.jpg Harrison Reed Governor of Florida Acquitted [58]
March 1872 Thrity years of New York politics up-to-date (1889) (14592180978).jpg George G. Barnard New York Supreme Court (1st District) Removed
1872 H C Warmoth 1870s W Kurtz.jpg Henry C. Warmoth Governor of Louisiana "Suspended from office," though trial was not held [59]
1876 Gen. Adelbert Ames - NARA - 527085.jpg Adelbert Ames Governor of Mississippi Resigned [56]
1888 Honest Dick Tate.png James W. Tate Kentucky State Treasurer Removed
1901 David M. Furches Chief Justice, North Carolina Supreme Court Acquitted [60]
Robert M. Douglas Associate Justice, North Carolina Supreme Court Acquitted [60]
August 13, 1913 [61] William Sulzer NY.jpg William Sulzer Governor of New York Removed on October 17, 1913 [62]
July 1917 James E. Ferguson.jpg James E. Ferguson Governor of Texas Removed [63]
October 23, 1923 Jack Walton.jpg John C. Walton Governor of Oklahoma Removed
January 21, 1929 Henry S. Johnston Governor of Oklahoma Removed
April 6, 1929 [64] HueyPLongGesture.jpg Huey P. Long Governor of Louisiana Acquitted
June 13, 1941 Daniel H. Coakley Massachusetts Governor's Councilor Removed on October 2, 1941
May 1958 [65] Raulston Schoolfield Judge, Hamilton County, Tennessee Criminal Court Removed on July 11, 1958 [66]
March 14, 1984 [67] Paul L. Douglas Nebraska Attorney General Acquitted by the Nebraska Supreme Court on May 4, 1984 [68]
February 6, 1988 [69] Evan Mecham Governor of Arizona Removed on April 4, 1988 [70]
March 30, 1989 [71] A. James Manchin State treasurer of West Virginia Resigned on July 9, 1989 before trial started [72]
January 25, 1991 [73] Ward "Butch" Burnette Kentucky Commissioner of AgricultureResigned on February 6, 1991 before trial started [74]
May 24, 1994 [75] Rolf Larsen Associate Justice, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Removed on October 4, 1994, and declared ineligible to hold public office in Pennsylvania [76]
October 6, 1994 [77] Judith Moriarty Secretary of State of Missouri Removed by the Missouri Supreme Court on December 12, 1994 [78]
November 11, 2004 [79] Kathy Augustine Nevada State Controller Censured on December 4, 2004, not removed from office [80]
April 11, 2006 [81] David Hergert Member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents Removed by the Nebraska Supreme Court on July 7, 2006 [82]
January 8, 2009
(first vote) [83]
Rod Blagojevich (2911120436) (cropped).jpg Rod Blagojevich Governor of Illinois 95th General Assembly ended
January 14, 2009
(second vote) [84]
Removed on January 29, 2009, and declared ineligible to hold public office in Illinois [85]
February 11, 2013 [86] Benigno Fitial 2009.jpg Benigno Fitial Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands Resigned on February 20, 2013
August 13, 2018 [87] Robin Davis Associate Justices, Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia Retired on August 13, 2018. [88] Despite her retirement, the West Virginia Senate refused to dismiss the articles of impeachment and scheduled trial for October 29, 2018 although the trial is currently delayed by court order. [89]
Allen Loughry Resigned on November 12, 2018. [90] [91] Possible trial before the West Virginia Senate delayed by court order. [89]
Beth Walker Reprimanded and censured on October 2, 2018, not removed from office. [92]
Margaret Workman Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia Trial before the West Virginia Senate delayed by court order after originally being scheduled for October 15, 2018. [93] [94]

State governors

At least four state governors have been impeached and removed from office:

See also


  1. "Removed and disqualified" indicates that following conviction the Senate voted to disqualify the individual from holding further federal office pursuant to Article I, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, which provides, in pertinent part, that "[j]udgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States."
  2. During the impeachment trial of Senator Blount, it was argued that the House of Representatives did not have the power to impeach members of either House of Congress; though the Senate never explicitly ruled on this argument, the House has never again impeached a member of Congress. The Constitution allows either House to expel one of its members by a two-thirds vote, which the Senate had done to Blount on the same day the House impeached him (but before the Senate heard the case).
  3. Judge Nixon later challenged the validity of his removal from office on procedural grounds; the challenge was ultimately rejected as nonjusticiable by the Supreme Court in Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993).

Related Research Articles

Impeachment Formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity

Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official. It does not mean removal from office; it is only a statement of charges, akin to an indictment in criminal law. Once an individual is impeached, he or she must then face the possibility of conviction by a legislative vote, which judgment entails removal from office.

Obstruction of justice, in United States jurisdictions, is a crime consisting of obstructing prosecutors, investigators, or other government officials. Common law jurisdictions other than the United States tend to use the wider offense of perverting the course of justice.

Thomas Porteous American judge

Gabriel Thomas Porteous Jr. is a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He served for sixteen years before being impeached and removed from office in December 2010.

United States House Committee on the Judiciary Standing committee of the United States House of Representatives

The U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, also called the House Judiciary Committee, is a standing committee of the United States House of Representatives. It is charged with overseeing the administration of justice within the federal courts, administrative agencies and Federal law enforcement entities. The Judiciary Committee is also the committee responsible for impeachments of federal officials. Because of the legal nature of its oversight, committee members usually have a legal background, but this is not required.

The charge of high crimes and misdemeanors covers allegations of misconduct by officials, such as perjury of oath, abuse of authority, bribery, intimidation, misuse of assets, failure to supervise, dereliction of duty, unbecoming conduct, refusal to obey a lawful order, chronic intoxication, and tax evasion. Offenses by officials also include ordinary crimes, but perhaps with different standards of proof and punishment than for nonofficials, on the grounds that more is expected of officials by their oaths of office.

Harry E. Claiborne American judge

Harry Eugene Claiborne was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada from 1978 until his impeachment and removal in 1986. Appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, Claiborne was only the fifth person in United States history to be removed from office through impeachment by the United States Congress and the first since Halsted Ritter in 1936. He was the first federal judge to be sent to prison.

Halsted L. Ritter American judge

Halsted Lockwood Ritter was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. He was the thirteenth individual to be impeached by the United States House of Representatives and the fourth individual to be convicted and removed from office by the United States Senate.

Robert Wodrow Archbald American judge

Robert Wodrow Archbald was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Commerce Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the United States Circuit Courts for the Third Circuit and previously was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. He was the ninth federal official on whom Articles of Impeachment were served, and only the third to be convicted and removed from office.

Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993), was a United States Supreme Court decision that determined that the question of whether the Senate had properly tried an impeachment was a political question and could not be resolved in the courts.

Walter Nixon American judge

Walter Louis Nixon Jr. is a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi who in 1989 was impeached by the House of Representatives and removed from office by the Senate. Because Nixon's impeachment was for perjury, the case was cited as a precedent in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

Articles of impeachment are the set of charges drafted against a public official to initiate the impeachment process. The articles of impeachment do not result in the removal of the official, but instead require the enacting body to take further action, such as bringing the articles to a vote before the full body.

Samuel B. Kent American judge

Samuel B. Kent is a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, who served in the single-judge Galveston Division covering Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, and Matagorda Counties. A member of the Republican Party, he was nominated by President George H. W. Bush on August 3, 1990, to a seat vacated by Hugh Gibson, confirmed by the United States Senate on September 28, 1990, and received his commission on October 1, 1990. His tenure as a United States District Court judge was marred from 2001 on by a series of disciplinary actions, culminating in his impeachment and resignation in 2009.

Impeachment in the Philippines is an expressed power of the Congress of the Philippines to formally charge a serving government official with an impeachable offense. After being impeached by the House of Representatives, the official is then tried in the Senate. If convicted, the official is either removed from office or censured.

Impeachment of Andrew Johnson 1868 impeachment of the 17th US president

The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was initiated on February 24, 1868, when the United States House of Representatives resolved to impeach Andrew Johnson, 17th president of the United States, for "high crimes and misdemeanors", which were detailed in 11 articles of impeachment. The primary charge against Johnson was violation of the Tenure of Office Act, passed by Congress in March 1867, over his veto. Specifically, he had removed from office Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War—whom the Act was largely designed to protect—and attempted to replace him with Brevet Major General Lorenzo Thomas.

John Pickering served as chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court of Judicature, and as judge for the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire. He was the first federal official to be removed from office upon conviction by impeachment; the charges by Congress were for drunkenness and unlawful rulings.

Numerous federal officials in the United States have been threatened with impeachment and removal from office. The majority of impeachment investigations that have taken place have not resulted in convictions.

Impeachment is the procedure in which a legislative body, like the US Congress, can punish or remove government officials from their positions. This is a way for the legislative branch to check and balance the executive and judicial branches and police itself as well.

Impeachment process against Richard Nixon 1970s preliminary process to remove the President of the United States

An impeachment process against Richard Nixon was formally initiated on February 6, 1974, when the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution, H.Res. 803, giving its Judiciary Committee authority to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States of high crimes and misdemeanors, primarily related to the Watergate scandal. This investigation was undertaken one year after the United States Senate established a select committee to investigate the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. and the Nixon Administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement.

The Impeachment of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the highest court in that state, is a unique event in American history. While demands for such action are relatively common throughout the United States, and the removal of state judges by other means is not uncommon throughout the Union, the scandal of this proportion and the reaction to it is something new.


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Further reading