Since Donald Trump took office in the US, I’ve heard a number of people argue about his policies, and executive orders. Some are in favour of his positions, while others are very opposed. Some have even suggested that President Trump should be impeached. So I thought I would take a break this week from talking about Canadian Law, and provide an explanation of Impeachment in the US.
Impeachment is a term that is thrown around quite often when people do not agree with what an elected or appointed official is doing. Impeachment is the process for laying formal charges against a public official which would remove them from office.
There have only ever been two presidents impeached: Bill Clinton, and Andrew Jackson, and neither was convicted.
The rule for impeachment is in the United States Constitution Article II section 4. It 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.”
The other sections of the United States Constitution to review on impeachment are in Article I. Section 2 gives the House of Representatives the power to bring articles of impeachment. Section 3 provides that “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.”
For a President, Vice President or civil officer to be impeached and removed from office, two thirds of the House of Representatives must agree that charges of impeachment be brought against the person. Then an impeachment hearing is held in the senate where two thirds of the senate must agree that the impeached person has committed the offence charged.
Apart from Treason and Bribery, the constitution is not clear as to what acts are subject to impeachment procedures. The impeachment process against Richard Nixon was begun for obstruction of justice for refusing to hand over tapes which were ordered produced by the Supreme Court. Bill Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury but was acquitted by the senate. Andrew Johnson was impeached but was acquitted on all 11 charges as those in favour of impeachment were 1 vote shy on every count.
Impeachment is not an easy process and if the president belongs to the party that controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate, there would likely have to be very damning evidence for a President to be impeached and removed from office.
Scott Buchanan is an associate at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. For more articles, visit the Library Page at www.cobbjones.ca.