Impeachment is the bringing of charges against government officials for misconduct, corruption, or abuse of power. Impeachment can occur at the state level, but in general discussion the term usually refers to charges against federal officials.
Impeachment is occasionally misconstrued to mean the removal of an official from office, but in fact it is only the beginning of the process that may lead to an official being removed. Impeachment is analogous to an indictment in a criminal case, and a trial and conviction must follow before an official is removed from office.
Impeachment of Federal Officials
The U.S. Constitution says 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." The phrase "civil officers" includes Cabinet members and Federal judges, but not members of Congress.
The House of Representatives has the sole authority to impeach federal officials, which it can do by a simple majority vote on articles of impeachment. According to House procedures, the articles of impeachment are prepared by the House Judiciary Committee, which performs an investigation and decides whether to forward the articles of impeachment to the full House.
If the House approves the articles of impeachment, the Senate sits as a jury in the trial of the official, with the Vice President presiding in his capacity as President of the Senate. However, if the officer impeached is the President, the Chief Justice of the United States presides. Two-thirds of the members present must vote to convict the official, and upon conviction he is removed from office. After a conviction, the Senate may additionally vote, by simple majority, to disqualify the person from ever holding federal office again.
Contrary to popular belief, Richard Nixon was not actually impeached. He resigned from office before articles of impeachment, which were then being drafted, were finished, thus avoiding actually being impeached. Gerald Ford subsequently pardoned Nixon for all crimes he committed in the United States.
Impeached Federal Officials
- 1797: William Blount, senator, charges dismissed in 1799†
- 1804: John Pickering, judge, removed from office
- 1805: Samuel Chase, Supreme Court justice, acquitted
- 1831: James Peck, judge, acquitted
- 1862: West Humphreys, judge, removed from office
- 1868: Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, acquitted
- 1876: William Belknap, Secretary of War, acquitted
- 1905: Charles Swayne, judge, acquitted
- 1913: Robert Archibald, judge, removed from office
- 1926: George English, judge, resigned during trial
- 1933: Harold Louderback, judge, acquitted
- 1936: Halsted Ritter, judge, removed from office
- 1986: Harry Claiborne, judge, removed from office
- 1988: Alcee Hastings, judge, removed from office
- 1989: Walter Nixon, judge, removed from office
- 1999: Bill Clinton, President of the United States, acquitted
† The dismissal of Blount's charges established the precedent that members of Congress are not "civil officers" for purposes of impeachment.
American Bar Association. FAQs and Web Resources on the Impeachment Process. Retrieved June 7, 2004.
Infoplease.com. Impeachments of Federal Officials. Retrieved June 7, 2004.
- American Bar Association
- Procedure and Guidelines for Impeachment Trials in the United States Senate
- Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials
- Articles of Impeachment of George W. Bush, drafted by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark
- Impeachment: the Only Way the War Will End BlueOregon