The right to impeach public officials is enshrined in the constitution in Article 1 Sections 2 and 3. While it holds that officials can be impeached for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, Gerald Ford’s broader definition of impeachable offenses should be considered when accounting for today’s highly partisan congress. As the minority leader of the congress Ford held that, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” This statement, while not entirely true from a constitutional purist sense, reminds us that congress is a body responsive to public opinion. Those in congress may seek to unseat a member, judge, or United States officer should enough support exist. For example, Associate Justice Samuel Chase was impeached but eventually acquitted as the Senate found his House impeachment was due most likely to an anti-federalist bias in the House.
Though rare, impeachments are a well established practice with a wealth of precedence. The first such charges were levied at a Senator William Blount from Tennessee in 1797. The house would vote to impeach the Senator, however the Senate did not feel that was necessary. Both houses have the ability to dismiss their own members without the support of the other house. The Senate at that time, probably for the sake of swiftness, simply voted to expel Mr. Blount. Impeachment has since become a more codified practice with the publishing of Thomas Jefferson’s Manual, which the House has since used when pursuing impeachment proceedings or reviewing other parliamentary practices. The Senate however, does not use Jefferson’s Manual.
In the wake of the Clinton Impeachment trials, it almost became common knowledge that no US president has been subject to impeachment outside the House of Representatives. However, other civil officers throughout history have been successfully impeached by both houses. 13 federal judges have been impeached by the House, 7 of them were then impeached by the Senate. (Oleszek, 133)
Judge Alcee Hastings is likely the most controversial impeachment casualty. Impeached by the House and Senate for charges relating to a bribery trial, the Senate chose not to invoke measures to maintain that Hastings never seek a federal office again. Needless to say, Hastings serves in the congress now.
Note. From “Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process” by Walter J. Oleszek, 2007,p. 133. Copyright 2007 by CQ Press