By Larry W. Zukerman, Esq. & Adam M. Brown, Esq.
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.”— U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 4
Since the day he took office through the issuance of the Muller Report, the word “impeachment” continues to cast a pall upon President Trump. While most understand that the “impeachment” of a federal official is a serious matter, and that it may somehow lead to the official’s involuntary removal from office, it is important to understand what impeachment really means and the process by which impeachment can occur.
In a nutshell, the U.S. Constitution provides impeachment as the process for removing from office the president, vice president, federal judges, and other federal officials. If a federal official commits a crime or otherwise acts improperly, the House of Representatives may issue Articles of Impeachment—formally charge—that official. The Constitution also provides the specific grounds for impeachment: “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” While these terms may seem straight forward, there has been considerable debate about the true meaning of these terms in the Impeachment context, as they are left undefined in the Constitution.
Nevertheless, the impeachment process begins in the House of Representatives. The House brings charges for impeachment (known as the Articles of Impeachment) if a majority of the members vote in favor of such charges. Before any such vote, however, the House typically conducts extensive investigations and examines the potential charges by holding hearings, reviewing evidence, and hearing testimony of witnesses regarding the potential charges. If the House votes to Impeach an official, then the case is sent from the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate where the Impeachment trial will occur.
In impeachment trials, the full Senate may receive evidence and take testimony. When the presentation of evidence and arguments for and against Impeachment has concluded, the Senate as a whole, meets in closed session to deliberate. A conviction on an Article of Impeachment requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. If the official is convicted on one or more of the articles against him or her, the Senate’s Presiding Officer will pronounce the judgment of conviction and removal.
It is important to note that while three (3) Presidents have been impeached— Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974, and Bill Clinton in 1998—the involuntary removal of a sitting President of the United States has never occurred in American history.
Whether for or against President Trump’s impeachment, we, as a democracy, must keep in mind that impeaching a president overturns an election. While that sentence may trigger its own host of responses, whether now, or one-hundred years from now, one cannot understate the seriousness of impeachment and the potential precedent it can set for future generations of our government.
Larry W. Zukerman is the managing partner of Zukerman, Lear & Murray, Co., LPA located in Cleveland, Ohio. For more information about Mr. Zukerman and Associate Attorney Adam M. Brown, visit the law firm’s website at www.zukerman-law.com.