Monday, July 12, 2010


I am currently working on the impeachment process as it exists in the United States, in part to fulfill the terms of my upcoming sabbatical from Assumption College. And here, in part, is what I have discovered so far.

Impeachment may serve at least two purposes, accountability or removability. Currently and for some time, a very long time in fact, we have viewed impeachment through the lens of removability. That is, impeachment is a way, the way even, of removing officials from office against their will for acts that seem to warrant such action. And as a reflection of this, nearly everyone who has written about impeachment assume that if a president, for example, is impeached, tried and convicted, then he must be removed from office. But this is not what the Constitution says or is not what that document must be interpreted as meaning. As I am likely to put it, the impeachment process was meant to serve as a leash and not only as lethal injection, it was meant as a way to restrain government officials, including presidents, not merely remove them from office. Hence, a president, like President Clinton, could have been impeached, tried, and convicted and then punished in some way short of removal from office, which at the time seemed like punishment that did not fit his "crime." In fact, given my understanding of the impeachment provisions in the Constitution, it would have been possible in the Clinton case to make the punishment fit the "crime," rather than, as happened, trying to make the "crime" fit the punishment.

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