13 Things People Get Wrong About Impeachment
Turns out, it’s a very misunderstood political process.
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It’s unclear whether someone who has been impeached can be reelected
You’d think that if someone has been impeached, they would be barred from seeking reelection, but that’s not necessarily the case. The constitution says that the only punishment the Senate may impose on an official upon conviction is “removal from office, and disqualification to hold…any office…under the United States.” That may sound straightforward, but according to Brennan, it’s unclear whether that “and” indicates that these are two possible punishments (removal, and disqualification) or a single punishment (ie. that removal means disqualification). “The Supreme Court has not issued a clear interpretation of this clause,” Brennan tells Reader’s Digest. “If an official were removed from office through impeachment, and subsequently re-elected, the case would almost certainly come before the Supreme Court, unless the Senate had clearly indicated that ‘disqualification’ was part of its punishment.”
Impeachment isn’t a way to remove a president if they are disliked
Contrary to what it might sound like by the way the word “impeachment” is thrown around, the president can’t be impeached simply for bad behavior or because Congress disagrees with his policy positions, Mike Purdy, presidential historian and author of 101 Presidential Insults: What They Really Thought About Each Other — and What It Means to Us tells Reader’s Digest. “Impeachment and conviction must meet the constitutional standard,” he explains. “That being said, impeachment and conviction are ultimately political processes and there is some ambiguity about what constitutes ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’ Or as Gerald Ford once put it when he served in Congress, ‘an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.’”
The founding fathers didn’t envision impeachment playing out the way it has
For starters, the founding fathers did not anticipate the rise of political parties, and thought that each of the three branches of government would serve as a check and balance on the other branches, Purdy explains. Instead, in our current political environment, loyalties lie within political parties rather than branches of government. Also, as he points out, “the founding fathers did not envision impeachment and conviction as a way to undo the results of an election, but as a means to protect the integrity of the constitutional framework established in the constitution.” You may be shocked by the U.S. Constitution myths most Americans believe.
But, we are not in a constitutional crisis
The framers of the constitution anticipated that there might be leaders who abuse power, and they provided impeachment as a tool to deal with it, Peter Hanson, PhD associate professor of political science at Grinnell College in Iowa and author of Too Weak to Govern: Majority Party Power and Appropriations in the U.S. Senate tells Reader’s Digest. “The House of Representatives is currently following the constitutionally prescribed path for addressing allegations that power has been abused and the public trust has been violated,” he explains. “A real constitutional crisis requires the breakdown of the constitutional system, such as if the president would refuse to leave office despite being convicted by the Senate.” Next, test yourself to see how much you know about the U.S. Constitution.