This post has been updated.
Just saying the word “impeachment” stirs up emotion in a lot of people. But even though everyone seems to have an opinion on impeachment, it is a very misunderstood part of our Constitution.
[sharequote align="center"]People in our government misuse their offices in order to make themselves very wealthy and powerful.[/sharequote]
It’s not hard to see why impeachment can be a little bit hard to follow. The process itself isn’t that complicated, but each step in the process gets described in a different section of the Constitution. Unless you look at all three sections at the same time, it can be difficult to see how it’s all supposed to work.
So let’s break down the process all in one place:
- According to Article 2, Section 4 the people in our government who can be impeached are the president, the vice president, and all civil officers of the United States (which includes judges).
- If someone is suspected of engaging in an impeachable activity, the House of Representatives can impeach that person by a majority vote. For a public official, being impeached is fairly similar to being indicted in a normal court.
- After a person has been impeached the case moves over to the Senate where the Senate holds a trial. If 2/3 of the senators present vote to convict the person being tried, he can be removed from office. The only punishment the Senate can impose is to remove a person from office and prevent him from holding public office in the future. Anyone who is impeached for a criminal act can be tried in the regular court system and face further punishment as well.
Notice that being impeached is not the same as being removed from office. It just means that the person is being charged with committing an impeachable offense.
So those are the basics of how the process works on paper. When it comes to applying it to the real world, there are two things that we have to understand for impeachment to be effective.
Public officials don’t necessarily have to commit a crime for their actions to be considered an impeachable offense. They can also be impeached for political misbehavior like abusing their office or betraying the public trust.
Dr. Kevin Gutzman does a fantastic job in his book, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution,” of detailing what type of behavior rises to the level of impeachment:
“The phrase ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’… had a precise legal meaning when the Constitution was ratified: it covered not only ‘high crimes’ and petty corruption, but also disability, including physical, mental or psychological impairment…."
And three pages later:
“In the English law tradition that shaped the Constitution, a 'high crime' or 'high misdemeanor' was different from an indictable 'crime' or 'misdemeanor.' 'High' was a category of misbehavior associated with high office and with political misbehavior.”
Impeachment Was Meant to be Used
The impeachment process was included in the Constitution because it was meant to be used. It was more that just a way to hold our public officials accountable for bad behavior. The possibility of being impeached was intended to make them think twice before behaving badly in the first place.
But that doesn’t work unless we prove that we are actually willing to impeach someone. Our public officials are always going to push the limits of bad behavior until they see that someone is going to hold them accountable. That’s just human nature.
If you want to see this aspect of human nature in action, take a look at the NBA.
In theory, the NBA has an obscure rule called “traveling” where you can’t walk without dribbling the ball. You might not be aware that this rule exists because it rarely gets called.
The players know that they aren’t going to be punished for traveling, so they just keep pushing the boundaries as much as possible. As a result, the rule has become a joke and led to ridiculous scenes like this:
Right now, the people in our federal government can get away with just about whatever they want. Can you think of any way that someone in the federal government could abuse their office that would cause them to be held accountable?
We’ve already had people whose negligence has allowed war veterans to die and who have used the IRS as a weapon to punish their political opponents - and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Yet none of those bureaucrats saw any realistic consequences for their actions.
You don’t have to be a deep political thinker to see what this approach to government leads to. All we have to do is apply a little common sense.
We’ve created an environment where the people in our federal government are able to misuse their offices in order to make themselves very wealthy and very powerful. And these public officials also know that there is virtually no chance that they will ever be held accountable for their actions. What kind of people do you think that is going to attract to working in our federal government?
The common sense answer is: People who are primarily concerned with making themselves wealthy and powerful. And if you look at Washington, D.C. today, it’s filled with exactly those types of people.
That’s not exactly a recipe for honest government that’s focused on serving the people of this country.
We have to stop clutching our pearls and acting as if it’s a radically offensive idea whenever the possibility of impeaching someone in the federal government is mentioned. Considering that our public officials are entrusted with the privilege of weilding the power of government on behalf of the rest of society, they ought to be held to a very high standard of behavior. It’s anything but a radical idea to say that they should be held accountable when government employees fail to live up to that standard.
Our public officials will always get away with as much as they can. That’s just human nature. So if we want to limit corruption, then we have to prove to the people who work in our federal government that we are more than willing to put them through the public disgrace of being impeached and formally removed from office.
Remember, this tool was included in the Constitution because it was meant to be used. So let the impeachments begin!
Chad Kent is an author and speaker with a unique style that makes the Constitution simple and fun. Listen to Chad every Saturday during The Chris Salcedo Show on TheBlaze Radio and visit his web site at www.ChadKentSpeaks.com.
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