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How does impeachment work?

On Behalf of | Oct 17, 2019 | Criminal Justice |

Impeachment is a word most people have grown up with. From Nixon to Clinton, and let’s not forget Andrew Johnson in 1868, three US presidents have faced impeachment. Of those three, two have faced formal impeachment votes in the House of Representative and one resigned. Zero have been removed from office by the legislative branch.

While many people of voting age were alive during the Clinton impeachment process, they still aren’t familiar with what it really means. The House holds a vote of impeachment, which is a query into if the president committed a crime. Then the Senate oversees a trial to determine if it justifies removal.

How is impeachment different than criminal court?

Like any government process, impeachment is a complex, detailed process. There are three reasons for charges against a president: treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors. The first two are clearly defined, but the last reason is more general and, as such, is harder to prove. As we mentioned above, the process starts in the House and moves to the Senate. There are a lot of procedural steps along the way.

In a brief overview:

  • The House of Representatives introduces a resolution.
  • A committee reviews the resolution and determines if a vote should be held.
  • The House holds a full vote on impeachment.
  • The Senate holds a trial, using evidence from the House. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the trial.
  • The Senate votes. A two-thirds majority is required to remove a sitting president.
  • If found guilty, the president is removed and the vice president is sworn into office.

There are more procedural steps in that process, including determining when the House holds its vote and how, exactly, the Senate trial will work. Of the two Senate trials to take place, both Johnson and Clinton were acquitted. Nixon resigned before the case went to the Senate.

It’s also important to note that impeachment is similar to a criminal trial, but it is not one. It exists as a way to accuse a president of a crime, but it is a government process and not a judicial one.

The saga is far from over

While it’s all over the news, there is no guarantee of an impeachment vote in the House soon — or ever. While people commonly refer to Nixon as being impeached, that’s factually incorrect. He resigned before the vote ever happened.

We distilled impeachment to a six-point list above, but it’s a complex process with a lot of fact-finding and legislative rules. There is no set timeline.

One thing everybody can agree to is that government bodies move at a glacial pace. Impeach discussions in 2019 will be no different.


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