WHAT IT IS
To impeach means to bring misconduct charges against a public official. [Merriam-Webster]
Impeachment is a political process that determines if the person is guilty of their accused misconduct. [The New York Times]
Impeachment is not a criminal process or criminal trial. [The Wall Street Journal]
When someone is impeached, it is not a guarantee of removal from office. [Reuters]
Under Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution,
“the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of,
- or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” [HISTORY]
- Articles of impeachment are the clearly defined charges of the case with the associated facts and evidence. [U.S. House of Representatives]
- Each article is one charge with the associated facts and evidence to support that charge.
THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The House of Representatives is responsible for collecting evidence and facts. [U.S. House of Representatives]
The House then drafts and votes on the articles of impeachment. The House requires a majority vote to approve the articles. [Reuters]
The House is responsible for delivering the articles to the Senate. [U.S. House of Representatives]
The Senate handles the impeachment trial and requires a two-thirds majority vote (61 votes) for conviction and removal from office. [U.S. Senate]
- The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the process in the Senate. [Reuters]
WHY IT MATTERS
CIVICS: Impeachment is a serious constitutional tool used to remove top officials when abuse has occurred. Due to the severity, it has been used only three times against a U.S. president.
It is a political tool, but should not be used based on political party disagreement with the president.
SOCIAL: If an impeachment in a top office occurs, it directly affects the entire nation and can be described as "tearing the country apart."
FACT: FOR ALL
The president and vice president are not the only positions subject to impeachment.
All U.S. civil officers can be impeached. [The New York Times]
The House of Representatives has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times but less than a third have led to full impeachments. [U.S. House of Representatives]
The Senate has conducted formal impeachment proceedings 19 times, with only two of those trials involving presidents. The two presidential instances resulted in an acquittal. [U.S. Senate]
Of those 19 proceedings, there were seven acquittals, eight convictions, three dismissals and one resignation with no further action. [U.S. House of Representatives]
The Senate has never removed a president from office. [Reuters]
FACT: NOT CRIMINAL
An impeachment trial is not a criminal trial. It does not follow the same legal rules as a criminal trial. [The Washington Post]
It focuses on "misconduct" within the office, making it a tool used to check abuses of power. [Smithsonian]
The criminal justice system focuses on acts that break the law known as crimes.
What is considered an impeachable offense is highly debated. [Smithsonian]
Impeachable offenses are defined in the constitution as “Treason, Bribery and other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Treason is clearly defined in the Constitution. Bribery and High Crimes and Misdemeanors are not defined, resulting in various interpretations. [Constitutional Rights Foundation]
Whether or not an impeached official can run for another elected position, or will be criminally investigated after impeachment, is unclear due to no precedent. [University of Chicago]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
Dec. 18, 2019: President Donald J. Trump became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. [NPR]
Jan. 21, 2020: The Senate begins impeachment trial to determine if Donald Trump should be removed from office. [The Wall Street Journal]
The House of Representatives has impeached three presidents: (1) Andrew Johnson, (2) Bill Clinton, and (3) Donald Trump. [Reuters]
Impeachment proceedings have occurred four times in American history: (1) to Andrew Johnson, (2) Richard Nixon, (3) Bill Clinton, and (4) Donald Trump. [PBS]
Richard Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives held a full impeachment vote. [HISTORY]
Presidents Johnson and Clinton were ultimately acquitted by the Senate and finished their term as president. [HISTORY]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
Dive deep into the constitutional history of impeachment with 60-Second Civics.
Impeachment is not the only way to correct misconduct. It is one tool of many to keep checks and balances. [HISTORY]
Should Congress create concrete definitions for what counts as an impeachable offense?
What do you think qualifies as “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” as it related to the presidential seat?
What could be some negative consequences on the nation if a president was impeached and removed from office?
Read the articles of impeachment against President Trump here.