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What does the Constitution say about impeachment?

West front of our nation’s Capitol  - Courtesy Photo

By Jeffry Boatright

Impeachment proceedings are certain to permeate the airwaves and news headlines in the weeks and months ahead, with arguments centered around what is and isn’t constitutional. The greatest argument in the days to come will be whether or not President Donald Trump and others in his administration have actually violated the United States Constitution or broken any laws. We are sure to see broad interpretations given of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

From a political landscape that seemed impossible to become any more polarized, rose an investigation into President Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. That investigation, which Democratic leaders anticipate paving the way to impeachment, has reminded many Americans of how straightforward and well-written our Constitution is.

With only 4,400 words, the United States Constitution is the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world. The entire Constitution is only about six times the length of this article. The founding document is divided into seven Articles outlining the government’s

limits and responsibilities, providing the framework for the organization of the federal government. The Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. It is the foundation and source of the legal authority underlying the existence of this nation and the federal government.

While Democrats and Republicans agree on few things and usually have conflicting interpretations of our founders’ intentions, the impeachment process is clearly spelled out in the Constitution. We can all agree that Article II, Section four states that 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. Of course, what we cannot agree on is whether, or when, an impeachable offense has occurred.

Still, in the second section of Article I, the U.S. Constitution grants the House of Representatives the sole power of impeachment. Impeachment alone, however, does not constitute the removal of an official from office. Section three of Article I spells out that the Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.

Throughout our nation’s history, the impeachment process has been initiated over 60 times, but has only led to 19 impeachments, according to the National Archives. Of those 19 impeachments, only eight officials have been involuntarily removed from office. Incidentally, all eight were federal judges.

There have only been two U.S. Presidents impeached. President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868, and President Bill Clinton was impeached over a century later, in 1998. Neither Johnson nor Clinton was removed from office by the U.S. Senate. Although many citizens today believe that President Richard Nixon was impeached, he never was. Instead, he resigned from office and was pardoned by his former Vice President, Gerald Ford.

Interestingly, one U.S. Senator, William Blount of North Carolina, was impeached in 1797. Blount was not removed from office, but according to the National Archives, his case established the principle that Senators are not civil officers under the Constitution and members of congress can only be removed from office by a two-thirds vote by their respective chambers.

Although the Constitution explicitly outlines the framework for the organization of our federal government, political rivals are certain to disagree over the framers’ definitions of terms such as treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. We must be very careful to avoid loose interpretations for the sake of politics. If not, we could set a precedence that would make it impossible for anyone to serve without guilt.

Our Constitution outlines the framework and responsibilities for the legislative branch in Article I, and in Article II the framework is laid for the executive branch. The judicial branch is outlined in Article III, with the full faith and credit clause explained in Article IV. Article V outlines the process of amending the Constitution, and Article VI summarizes the Supremacy Clause. The Constitution concludes with Article VII, which details the ratification process.

The United States Constitution has indeed served our nation well for over two centuries, and as long as it is interpreted as the framers intended, it will continue to serve us well. Perhaps when we are in doubt, we can simply ask, what does the Constitution say?

How well do you know the Constitution? Here is a short quiz to test your basic knowledge. You can find the answers below.

1. What is the minimum age requirement for President?

(A) 25 (B) 30 (C) 35 (D) 40

2. What is the minimum age requirement for a Senator?

(A) 25 (B) 30 (C) 35 (D) 40

3. How many Senators do we have from each State?

(A) 1 (B) 2 (C) 4 (D) It varies State to State

4. How do we determine the number of U.S. Representatives per State?

(A)Population (B) State’s land mass (C) State’s GDP (D) Political affiliation

5. What is the length of a Senator’s term in office?

(A)two years (B) four years (C) six years (D) eight years

6. What is the length of a U.S. Representative’s term in office?

(A)two years (B) four years (C) six years (D) eight years

7. What is the minimum age requirement for a U.S. Representative?

(A) 25 (B) 30 (C) 35 (D) 40

8. Who falls in the line of succession for President after the Vice President?

(A) Secretary of State (B) Secretary of Interior (C) Speaker of the House (D) Attorney General

Answer Key: 1-C; 2-B; 3-B; 4 A; 5-C; 6-A; 7-A; 8-C