Impeachment 101: Why, When, and How the President Can Be Removed from Office
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Impeachment 101: Why, When, and How the President Can Be Removed from Office

October 11, 2019


Impeachment it turns out was a very central
part of the Constitution of the United States meaning it’s obscure, people don’t know
about it, but it probably was necessary for the Constitution actually to be ratified by
the American people. You can see the impeachment clause, and I’m
going to explain its content in a moment, but you can see it as part of the American
Revolution itself in the sense that the revolt against a king who was a leader who had authority
over ‘We the People’ was incomplete if we didn’t have a mechanism by which we could
get rid of our leaders, including the president, which was a way of ensuring we didn’t have
anything like a monarchy. Now the way impeachment worked is that in
the early American colonies before America was America we started impeaching people who
were following orders from the king. And what that meant was that an abusive authority
would be called out by some legislative assembly and in the initial phase what would happen
would be there would just be a vote that the person had abused authority and then if the
thing fell to completion, and this goes back to England, there would be a trial. And in the trial the person would be convicted
of the offense for which impeachment was had and if convicted the person would be removed
from office. So to bring this back to the American structure
as it developed after the Revolution and after the Constitution came into place, and this
was thought through with such care in Philadelphia when the Constitution was debated, the idea
was that if there is a high crime and misdemeanor, and we can talk a bit about what that means,
or if there’s treason or bribery then the House of Representatives by majority vote
can impeach the President, the Vice President, Supreme Court justices, members of the cabinet. And what that means is there’s a kind of
official judgment that the person has done something very, very bad and after that the
proceeding moves to the Senate, which is acting like a court and which decides whether to
convict, which means to remove the person from office. The House makes the impeachment vote by a
majority vote. That doesn’t mean anyone has to leave office. It then goes to the Senate, which if it votes
by a 2/3 majority to convict on the ground on which the let’s say President was impeached
then the person is, as they say about baseballs that are hit very hard… the President is
gone. Yes. Because the word ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’
seems to mean kind of felonies, high crimes and misdemeanors, the normal current reader
would think oh is there a crime? If you go back to the 18th century it’s
actually a lot more inspiring than that and kind of fitting with a system that’s committed
to self-government. So if there’s a crime, let’s call it jaywalking
or shoplifting or not paying your income taxes, that’s not a high crime or misdemeanor in
the constitutional sense. What is meant by high crime and misdemeanor
is an abuse of official authority and shoplifting or income tax evasion that’s a crime, it’s
not an abuse of official authority. If the President of the United States, let’s
suppose, decides I’m going to pardon every police officer who shot an African-American,
that’s not itself likely to be a crime. The President has the pardon power, but that
is definitely an impeachable offense. In fact James Madison spoke of abuse of the
pardon power as an impeachable offense. If the President of the United States decides
I’m going to go on vacation in Paris for the next six months because it’s really
beautiful, that’s certainly not a crime, but it’s an impeachable offense that’s
an egregious neglect of the authority of the office. So abuse of the authority of the office if
it’s egregious, pardon power for example would be one, if the president starts invading
civil liberties in a terrible way by locking people up for insufficient reason, by going
crazy in terms of security measures at airports and borders — and by going crazy I’m using
that as kind of a legal term of art — really exceeding the bounds of the reasonable, that
is not a crime but that is an abuse of authority and there we’re right back in the impeachment
clause, which is I think first and foremost a way of preserving our rights and liberties
and a way of calling out an authority who has invaded them. Think now about what the American Revolution
was fought for. I’ve spent a lot of last months in the 18th
century and the people back then were on the impeachment issues and presidential authority
issues they were off the charts good. In the debate in Virginia on whether we should
ratify the Constitution, one really learned person said, “We cannot ratify this Constitution. And the reason is the pardon power.” And it was urged by the skeptic, the President
could participate in something really sinister with one of his advisers, then his advisor
is in legal trouble and then the President can pardon the person for engaging in illegal
or corrupt activity that the President initiated. How can we allow a constitution that has that
in it? That’s a fair question and it was stated
with great precision as an objection to the Constitution as I recall by someone who had
actually signed the Declaration of Independence and I know that person was at the Constitutional
Convention and refused to embrace it. James Madison very quietly responded, and
he said, “I think the gentleman has overlooked something,” isn’t that a sweet way of
responding to someone when the stakes are super high whether we’re going to have a
Constitution. “The gentleman has overlook something,”
and then Madison explained, “If the President uses the pardon power to shelter someone who’s
done something terrible there’s something available in the Constitution, impeachment.” And Madison actually did his interlocutor
one better, the interlocutor was saying, “If the President advises something terrible and
participates in it and then pardons the person, isn’t that awful?” Madison said, “Yes that’s awful and that’s
impeachable,” but Madison’s words seemed to go beyond that to say if you pardon someone
who’s done something terrible, one of your own people, that’s itself a legitimate grounds
for impeachment, which suggested that abuse of the pardon power, in the words of James
Madison, “That’s an impeachable offense.” And with respect to the meaning of the Constitution,
it is hazardous to argue with James Madison. The beauty of the impeachment mechanism is
its connection with the principle that we have a republic and not a monarchy, which
means it puts ‘We the People’ in charge. That means that in vocation of the impeachment
mechanism, whether it’s a Democratic President or a Republican President, really depends
on ‘We the People’. So if you think of examples there was some
interest under President Bush and President Obama some interest in impeaching them. But I think thank goodness we the people,
even if we didn’t like either of those presidents, didn’t think there was an impeachable offense. Under President Nixon, by contrast, and I
believe very unfortunately under President Clinton because he didn’t commit an impeachable
offense, but under both of them there was a public demand for getting rid of them on
the ground that President Nixon had abused his presidential authority to cover up crimes
and also had himself use presidential authority to invade civil rights and civil liberties. That got people, whatever their political
affiliation, sufficiently charged up that they either were willing to go along with
those members of the House of Representatives who wanted to impeach Nixon, or they fueled
that. In the Clinton case there was a thought, and
again perjury and obstruction of justice, which were the charges against President Clinton,
there’s nothing good about them they’re very bad, but they weren’t in his case impeachable
offenses under the Constitution. Nonetheless people were charged up. A lot of people were charged up. So whether the President is a Democrat or
a Republican, whether it’s President Trump or in the future some left-of-center President,
if people think that there’s something that really is beyond the pale and that’s not the
Constitutional test but it’s a kind of colloquial way of getting at the Constitutional test,
beyond the pail of legitimate uses of authority then we the people we’re the boss. So the question who’s the boss? The first three words of the Constitution
say it, we the people and the impeachment clause kind of makes that real.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. CONMAN Tronald DUMP 2020!!!
    One of the rarest republicans ensuring the size of his DING DONG in the republicans debate
    REAL ISSUES like denying automobiles and smokestacks pollute, YES we need more COAL so more people die in 2030 and that fake ass conman is in his grave by then, while he cuts off red states health insurance 😆!!!!

  2. Why are people so triggered by this? Calm down and actually learn something instead of overreacting because it’s making you all look childish

  3. 1: dislikes and negative comments are easily manipulated and targeted for political reasons
    2: sunstein (academic who's made massive contributions to economics and sociology) doesn't mention that it's basically impossible for Republicans to say in large numbers "we want to impeach Trump", they care too much about avoiding the damage to their precious big money party, and pandering to ignorant racists who voted Trump, and such. If you vote for and support a pussy grabbing, tax dodging, pollution supporting billionaire who's obsessed with cutting healthcare for the poor, you're not voting in your best interests…

  4. Impeachment would be nice, but it would be nicer if Air Force One pulled a Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and disappeared in the middle of the ocean somewhere, with Trump and Pence and rest of the current administration on board.

  5. Actually, the US would be better off with a representative  government. (Anything else can be gamed, bought and sold.)

    Repubes or Democraps, our politicians are equipped with the morals of gutter cats.

    The problem with republics is the same as with monarchies. After a while, the noble intentions at the start are as dead as the noble individuals which founded the kingdom or the republic. (The methods of creation for either are equally bloody.)

    If we want a representative government, we’ll have to RE-create it. (There were no parties in 1776.)

    If we want smaller government, we'll have to take out the incentives for its growth too.

    The error of (y)our ways is that, despite the evidence of hundreds of years of history, you keep on electing self-selected, self-anointed members of the millionaires club, people who have no understanding of what the lives of the citizens of this country are like.

    That fits in with Einstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

    Let's examine how the situation has really devolved since the founding of this country.

    We've become a government
    • OF the thousandaires (the 99%, that would be me and thee, [A.K.A. *Nillionaires*])
    • BY the millionaires (the 1%, that would be the extremely insular privileged overlords and bosses,)
    • FOR the billionaires (the 12,400 individuals identified by the IRS as the people who count (though they don't really count as they hire some thousandaires to run machines to do that.)

    How is this different than the political situation that led to the founding of the United States?

    It isn't, really.

    One system had privilege being a condition of one's birth.

    The situation in the United States is the (cess)pool of nobles has expanded to people that the corporations like and are willing to fund.

    The first thing we do is change from an ELECTED to a SELECTED form of government. (In essence sortition. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition > Yes +Yoram Gat you will get credited from now on. 🙂

    Pick names at random out an eligible citizen pool and they’re stuck with doing the job for one, and only one, four-year term. Sort of like the Jury system.

    There could/should/would be no such thing as a career in politics. (The only thing worse than getting stuck with somebody who didn’t want the job is getting stuck with some idiot who did, figuring it was going to lift him a few rungs up the social/economic ladder.)

    And don't give me that bullshit about average citizens don't know enough about politics.

    Average citizens know right from wrong and are likely to at least read a bill before they sign and pass it on.

    Average citizens know enough to be suspicious and not so venal and blinded by the lure of undeserved re-election.

    Eligibility requirements are:
    • were you born here or are you a naturalized citizen?
    • are you a permanent resident in a village, town or city within our borders?
    • are you above the age of 25?
    • are you healthy enough? (you don't suffer from any clinical health issue(s) or mental impairment(s) which would prevent you from fulfilling your duties?)
    • have you never served in the government before?
    • have you never been found guilty of a violent crime?
    • have you never been found to be clinically insane?

    From +Milton Ragsdale comes a further refinement.
    • can you pass a one-month civics/constitutional boot camp?
    (It is up to individual states on how they select their Congressional representatives.)
    From ? comes a further refinement.
    • You can't have divided loyalties, therefore no dual citizenship.

    Answer yes to all of these questions, you’re eligible for selection.

    Don’t want to be bothered?

    Go live elsewhere or STFU! Or we can always use the carrot and the stick. The carrot is you'd have an interesting job for a few years that would look good on a resume. The stick is that nobody could legally hire you.

    That would get rid of all PACs, K Street lobbyists, a lot of graft, waste, and expense that WE'RE all paying for.

  6. Guys guys, settle down. Obviously this video was planned for 4 years ago and they just took a while with the finishing touches.

  7. Hey, big think, today is 21st century. Any method has it's expire time/date, which includes old laws. That's what we called BIG think. Some new laws need to be designed/created/passed for new situations, such as removing/impeaching Trumparrassment.

  8. What it comes down to is, the legal definition of an impeachable offense is whatever the people in congress want it to be.

  9. What did Trump do, that he should be impeached? I am not even an American & clearly see that Trump is doing a good job.
    He is an isolationist, he doesn't have ambitions to rule the world unlike his predecessors, so good for the world.

  10. The reason something like impeachment hasn't happened presently is our "representives" and senators personally don't want to impeach despite public opinion and approval rating. I'd like to impeach some senators for misrepresentation if I could and work our way up to president.

  11. I find it disturbing how trumpettes just shit their pants and start screaming the second anything suggesting that Trump needs to be removed from power comes up. At least fucking LISTEN to what this dude is saying.

  12. The clause of impeachment, just like the 2nd Amendment, has been traditionally manipulated to the point that it does not exist. I would not be incorrect to demand a complete overhaul of a well envisioned structure of government but totally archaic and counterproductive, for we no longer have the setting or the technology that was pertinent in the time of the constitution creation nor will undergo a similar tyranny without invoking the primary right bestowed by the jurisdiction of this magna carta: the right to dispose of tyrannt on self-defense groundz….

  13. This song could make you feel better after watching it a few times YouTube commenter‘s.
    Just put yourself in one position and the impeacher in the other dance spot.
    :oD Goodluck!
    Barbra Streisand – Guilty (duet with Barry Gibb) -HQ
    youtube,com/watch?v=X_ygaoMoWUI

  14. If the establishment tries to overthrow the democratically elected president, there will be a civil war in this country.

  15. I've been a subscriber of Big Think for several years. I think that ends today- It's become less of a repository for good ideas and more of a biased political platform. I came for good ideas, not regurgitated talking points.

  16. I don't think the impeachment is a bedrock, certainly the ability to remove any elected individual from office if a crime has been committed, but impeachment is not just firing someone, it's a whole process.
    I think federalization is a good example of a bedrock of the constitution, the separation of powers, etc…
    Now, if instead of an impeachment process, it was just an ordinary legal process would the bedrock be changed? I don't think so.
    Certainly if elected officials couldn't be removed from office it would mean the bedrock was changed.

  17. Add me to the list of people who wish Big Think wouldn't cover the guest's face at the end with the outro cards. Elongating the video slightly or placing the buttons so that they don't cover the face would be much better.

  18. The bedrock of our constitution was our founders. Don't pretend to care about the constitution and then erase the people who wrote it from history.

  19. The guy who wrote Nudge is talking about an abuse of authority. Come on Cass, you don't care about the limitations of federal power in the constitution.

  20. Every Democrat I've written to on this subject is just dragging their feet, "investigating" any possible connections to Russia, and ignoring any of the obvious misuses of power. A presidential term is only four years, but the researching to lead up to a maybe possibly conceivably eventual impeachment seems like it would take a hundred years to get moving. I think it's obvious that Democrats don't want to impeach, because they want to run against him in 2020. They think it'll be an easy victory. (Just like how Clinton was supposed to be an "easy win" against Trump in 2016. Yeah, that worked out as planned.) And every Republican I've written to has just said, "well, a lot of people like Trump," as if we can't impeach without unanimous support from all 360,000,000 citizens. They won't even deny that Trump ought to be impeached. They just don't want the party to have a president removed from office on their permanent record. They really don't give a shit if the nation works or not. They only care about strategizing for the next election, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that, ad infinitum. If I could show these party leaders that slitting their own throats would, according to some bullshit market research, increase their chances of taking another congressional seat by a fraction of a percent, they'd probably do it without even thinking about it.

  21. Don't you think America would be better off with a parliamentary system instead, so in this case If Trump is unpopular, the ruling party (currently Republican) would have a vote of no confidence there by ending Trumps tenure and electing a interim Prime Minister.

  22. Most Trump haters are extremely unintelligent people. Most people in the world follow the opinion of others, a group opinion without any solid reasoning emerges. This is what is happening in the US today, people don't really know why they hate Trump, they just follow popular opinion.

  23. Have you noticed that Republicans follow a lot of the "bad guy" tropes and progressives follow a lot of the "good guy" tropes? And that progressives are for progress? XD

  24. The problem of impeaching Trump is that Mike Pence becomes president. You thought Trump was a dingus, wait till you see a true evangelical stooge in the White House. Say goodbye to what little religious freedom is left in this country and hello christian theocracy.

  25. Trump and his supporters are lowlife cancer but I don't Pence as president. He could be worse by actually getting bad things done

  26. These lines are incredibly vague. I feel like you're abusing the language here in that you're giving some examples that any reasonable person would agree to, but it's the situations that aren't so black and white that are what you should be worried about. "neglecting the office" and other phrases you used can, as we see with the political landscape, be interpreted in far too many ways.

  27. Cass Sunstein is an evil Globalist. Trump is doing EXACTLY what we voted for him to do. So, back off, Jack. The people who voted for Trump are happy with Trump. Trump won. Hillary lost. HRC and BHO are criminally guilty of crimes against America. By comparison, Trump is an Angel. And Trump is no angel. So, your desire for impeachment is nothing more than more bullshit. I guess you'll keep shoveling until you dig your own grave. Speaker in the video, you're so transparent, in a bad way.

  28. Didn't Trump pardon a certain sheriff that allowed a lot of men to die in his prison? Sounds like abuse of power to me.

  29. I honestly have no idea why someone could reasonably dislike this video unless on grounds of gross assumptions outside of what Sunstein said

  30. The founders of the nation didn't count on a colluding political party avoiding their Constitutional duty due to personal profit motive.

    Citizens United has destroyed "self-government" by taking power from the voters and gives it to a small number of wealthy individuals who can simply pay for legislation and influence the enforcement of existing laws.

    The US is now officially an oligarchy no longer beholden to the rank-and-file citizens.

    The pardon power is not tempered by impeachment — not when the majority party in power colludes with the high-crimes.

  31. Bill Clinton got his cock sucked in the Oval Office of the White House. Not by his wife, but by a jewess outside of marriage. The jewess kept a stained dress with his cum on it, for only one possible reason — as insurance to blackmail him at a later date. The president was therefore compromised.
    And he didn't pick a seedy hotel in a gross part of town — they debased the Oval Office, an important historical building.
    But OMG, Trump said some bad things about meskins. Impeach!

  32. Presidents have been impeached for less than what has happened so far but I think they elected Him to have him impeached. Because I think they are guilty of voter suppression.

  33. We love Donald Trump I don't believe any of the news media I don't listen to the news anymore Trump 20/20 I will not listen to the propaganda machine

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