Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body formally levels
charges against a high official of government.
Impeachment does not
necessarily mean removal from office; it is only a formal statement of
charges, akin to an indictment in criminal law, and is thus only the
first step towards removal. Once an individual is impeached, he or she
must then face the possibility of conviction via legislative vote,
which then entails the removal of the individual from office.
Because impeachment and conviction of officials involve an overturning
of the normal constitutional procedures by which individuals achieve
high office (election, ratification, or appointment) and because it
generally requires a supermajority, they are usually reserved for
those deemed to have committed serious abuses of their office. In the
United States, for example, impeachment at the federal level is
limited to those who may have committed "high crimes and
Impeachment has its origins in
English law but fell out of use in the
18th century. It exists under constitutional law in many nations
around the world, including Brazil, the Republic of Ireland, India,
the Philippines, Russia,
South Korea and the United States.
1 Etymology and history
2 In various jurisdictions
2.5 Czech Republic
2.7 Hong Kong
2.16.1 Impeachable offenses and officials
Impeachment proceedings and attempts
South Korea (Republic of Korea)
2.23 United Kingdom
22.214.171.124 Queen Caroline
2.23.3 Modern politics
2.24 United States
2.24.1 Impeachable offenses
2.24.2 Officials subject to impeachment
2.24.4 History of federal impeachment proceedings in the United States
3 See also
5 Further reading
Etymology and history
The word "impeachment" derives from Latin root impedicare expressing
the idea of becoming caught or entrapped, and has analogues in the
modern French verb empêcher (to prevent) and the modern English
impede. Medieval popular etymology also associated it (wrongly) with
derivations from the Latin impetere (to attack). (In its more frequent
and more technical usage, impeachment of a witness means challenging
the honesty or credibility of that person.)
Impeachment was first used in the British political system.[citation
needed] Specifically, the process was first used by the English "Good
Parliament" against Baron Latimer in the second half of the 14th
century. Following the British example, the constitutions of Virginia
(1776), Massachusetts (1780) and other states thereafter adopted the
impeachment mechanism, but they restricted the punishment to removal
of the official from office. As well, in private organizations, a
motion to impeach can be used to prefer charges.
In various jurisdictions
The Austrian Federal President can be impeached by the Federal
Assembly (Bundesversammlung) before the Constitutional Court. The
constitution also provides for the recall of the president by a
referendum. Neither of these courses has ever been taken. This is
likely because while the President is vested with considerable powers
on paper, they act as a largely ceremonial figurehead in practice, and
is thus hardly in a position to abuse their powers.
The President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, state governors
and municipal mayors may be impeached by the Chamber of Deputies and
tried and removed by the Federal Senate. Upon conviction, the
officeholder has his political rights revoked for eight years--which
has the effect of barring him from running for any office.
Fernando Collor de Mello, the 32nd President of Brazil, resigned in
1992 amidst impeachment proceedings. Despite his resignation, the
Senate nonetheless voted to convict him and bar him from holding any
office for eight years, due to evidence of bribery and
In 2016, the Chamber of Deputies initiated an impeachment case against
Dilma Rousseff on allegations of budgetary mismanagement.
Following her conviction, she was replaced by Vice President Michel
Temer, who had served as acting president while Rousseff's case was
President of Bulgaria
President of Bulgaria can be removed only for high treason or
violation of the constitution. The process is started by a two-thirds
majority vote of the Parliament to impeach the President, whereupon
the Constitutional Court decides whether the President is guilty of
the crime of which he is charged. If he is found guilty, he is removed
from power. No Bulgarian President has ever been impeached. The same
procedure can be used to remove the Vice President of Bulgaria, which
has also never happened.
The process of impeaching the
President of Croatia
President of Croatia can be initiated by
a two-thirds majority vote in favor in the
Sabor and is thereafter
referred to the Constitutional Court, which must accept such a
proposal with a two-thirds majority vote in favor in order for the
president to be removed from office. This has, however, never occurred
in the history of the Republic of Croatia. However, in case of a
successful impeachment motion a president's constitutional term of
five years would be terminated and an election called within 60 days
of the vacancy occurring. During the period of vacancy the
presidential powers and duties would be carried out by the Speaker of
the Croatian Parliament in his/her capacity as Acting President of the
President of the Czech Republic
President of the Czech Republic could be impeached only for an act
of high treason (which is not defined in the Constitution of the Czech
Republic itself). The process has to start in the Senate of the Czech
Republic which only has the right to impeach the president, this
passes the case to the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic
which has to decide whether the President is guilty or not. If the
Court decides that the President is guilty then the President loses
his office and the ability to be elected President of the Czech
Republic ever again. No Czech president has ever been impeached,
though, members of the Senate sought to impeach President Vaclav Klaus
in 2013. This case was dismissed by the court reasoning that his
mandate has expired.
In 2013 the constitution changed; now the process can be started by at
least three-fifths of present senators and must be approved by at
least three-fifths of all members of Parliament. Also, the President
can be impeached not only for high treason (newly defined in the
Constitution) but also for a serious infringement of the
President of Germany
President of Germany can be impeached both by the
Bundestag and by the Bundesrat for willfully violating Federal law.
Bundestag or the Bundesrat impeaches the president, the
Federal Constitutional Court decides whether the President is guilty
as charged and, if this is the case, whether to remove him or her from
office. The Federal Constitutional Court also has the power to remove
federal judges from office for willfully violating core principles of
the federal constitution or a state constitution. The impeachment
procedure is regulated in Article 61 of the Basic Law for the Federal
Republic of Germany.
Chief Executive of Hong Kong
Chief Executive of Hong Kong can be impeached by the Legislative
Council. A motion for investigation, initiated jointly by at least
one-fourth of all the legislators charging the Chief Executive with
"serious breach of law or dereliction of duty" and refusing to resign,
shall first be passed by the Council. An independent investigation
committee, chaired by the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal,
will then carry out the investigation and report back to the Council.
If the Council find the evidence sufficient to substantiate the
charges, it may pass a motion of impeachment by a two-thirds
However, the Legislative Council does not have the power actually to
remove the Chief Executive from office, as the Chief Executive is
appointed by the Central People's Government. The Council can only
report the result to the Central People's
Government for its
The President of
India can be impeached by the Parliament before the
expiry of the term for violation of the Constitution. Other than
impeachment, no other penalty can be given to the President for the
violation of the Constitution. No Indian President has faced
impeachment proceedings. Hence, the provisions for impeachment have
never been tested. The President in position cannot be charged and
needs to step down in order for that to happen.
Assembly of Experts
Assembly of Experts can impeach the
Supreme Leader of Iran
Supreme Leader of Iran and
appoint a new one.
President of Iran
President of Iran can be impeached jointly by the members of the
Assembly (Majlis) and the Supreme Leader. A new presidential election
is then triggered. Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran's first president, was
impeached in June 1981 and removed from the office. Mohammad-Ali Rajai
was elected as the new president.
Cabinet ministers can be impeached by the members of the Assembly.
Presidential appointment of a new minister is subject to a
parliamentary vote of confidence.
Impeachment of ministers has been a
fairly commonly used tactic in the power struggle between the
president and the assembly during the last several governments.
Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland formal impeachment only applies to the
Irish president. Article 12 of the Irish Constitution provides that,
unless judged to be "permanently incapacitated" by the Supreme Court,
the president can only be removed from office by the houses of the
Oireachtas (parliament) and only for the commission of "stated
misbehaviour". Either house of the
Oireachtas may impeach the
president, but only by a resolution approved by a majority of at least
two-thirds of its total number of members; and a house may not
consider a proposal for impeachment unless requested to do so by at
least thirty of its number.
Where one house impeaches the president, the remaining house either
investigates the charge or commissions another body or committee to do
so. The investigating house can remove the president if it decides, by
at least a two-thirds majority of its members, both that the president
is guilty of the charge, and that the charge is sufficiently serious
as to warrant the president's removal. To date no impeachment of an
Irish president has ever taken place. The president holds a largely
ceremonial office, the dignity of which is considered important, so it
is likely that a president would resign from office long before
undergoing formal conviction or impeachment.
The Republic's Constitution and law also provide that only a joint
resolution of both houses of the
Oireachtas may remove a judge.
Although often referred to as the "impeachment" of a judge, this
procedure does not technically involve impeachment. 
In Italy, according to Article 90 of the Constitution, the President
of the Republic can be impeached through a majority vote of the
Parliament in joint session for high treason and for attempting to
overthrow the Constitution. If impeached, the President of the
Republic is then tried by the Constitutional Court integrated with
sixteen citizens older than forty chosen by lot from a list compiled
by the Parliament every nine years.
Italian press and political forces made use of the term "impeachment"
for the attempt by some members of parliamentary opposition to
initiate the procedure provided for in Article 90 against the
Francesco Cossiga (1991) and
Giorgio Napolitano (2014).
However these attempts failed at an early stage.
Members of the Liechtenstein
Government can be impeached before the
State Court for breaches of the Constitution or of other
laws.:Article 62 As a hereditary monarchy the Sovereign Prince can
not be impeached as he "is not subject to the jurisdiction of the
courts and does not have legal responsibility".:Article 7 The same
is true of any member of the Princely House who exercises the function
of head of state should the Prince be temporarily prevented or in
preparation for the Succession.:Article 7
In the Republic of Lithuania, the President may be impeached by a
three-fifths majority in the Seimas. President
Rolandas Paksas was
removed from office by impeachment on April 6, 2004 after the
Constitutional Court of Lithuania
Constitutional Court of Lithuania found him guilty of having violated
his oath and the constitution. He was the first European head of state
to have been impeached.
Members of government, representatives of the national assembly
(Stortinget) and Supreme Court judges can be impeached for criminal
offenses tied to their duties and committed in office, according to
the Constitution of 1814, §§ 86 and 87. The procedural rules were
modeled after the US rules and are quite similar to them. Impeachment
has been used eight times since 1814, last in 1927. Many argue that
impeachment has fallen into desuetude. In cases of impeachment, an
appointed court (Riksrett) takes effect.
The country's ruling coalition said on August 7, 2008, that it would
seek the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, alleging the
U.S.-backed former general had "eroded the trust of the nation" and
increasing pressure on him to resign. He resigned on August 18, 2008.
Another kind of impeachment in Pakistan is known as the vote of
less-confidence or vote of mis-understanding and has been practiced by
provincial assemblies to weaken the national assembly.
Impeaching a president requires a two-thirds majority support of
lawmakers in a joint session of both houses of Parliament.
Impeachment in the Philippines
Impeachment in the
Philippines follows procedures similar to the
United States. Under Sections 2 and 3, Article XI, Constitution of the
House of Representatives of the
Philippines has the
exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment against the
President, Vice President, members of the Supreme Court, members of
the Constitutional Commissions (Commission on Elections, Civil Service
Commission and the Commission on Audit), and the Ombudsman. When a
third of its membership has endorsed the impeachment articles, it is
then transmitted to the Senate of the
Philippines which tries and
decide, as impeachment tribunal, the impeachment case.
A main difference from US proceedings however is that only one third
of House members are required to approve the motion to impeach the
President (as opposed to a simple majority of those present and voting
in their US counterpart). In the Senate, selected members of the House
of Representatives act as the prosecutors and the Senators act as
judges with the Senate President presiding over the proceedings (the
Chief Justice jointly presides with the Senate President if the
President is on trial). Like the United States, to convict the
official in question requires that a minimum of two thirds (i.e. 16 of
24 members) of all the Members of the Senate vote in favor of
conviction. If an impeachment attempt is unsuccessful or the official
is acquitted, no new cases can be filed against that impeachable
official for at least one full year.
Impeachable offenses and officials
The 1987 Philippine Constitution says the grounds for impeachment
include culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and
corruption, and betrayal of public trust. These offenses are
considered "high crimes and misdemeanors" under the Philippine
The President, Vice President, Supreme Court justices, and members of
the Constitutional Commission and Ombudsman are all considered
impeachable officials under the Constitution.
Impeachment proceedings and attempts
Joseph Estrada was the first official impeached by the House
in 2000, but the trial ended prematurely due to outrage over a vote to
open an envelope where that motion was narrowly defeated by his
allies. Estrada was deposed days later during the 2001 EDSA
In 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, impeachment complaints were filed
against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but none of the cases
reached the required endorsement of 1/3 of the members for transmittal
to, and trial by, the Senate.
In March 2011, the
House of Representatives impeached Ombudsman
Merceditas Gutierrez, becoming the second person to be impeached. In
April, Gutierrez resigned prior to the Senate's convening as an
In December 2011, in what was described as "blitzkrieg fashion", 188
of the 285 members of the
House of Representatives voted to transmit
the 56-page Articles of
Impeachment against Supreme Court Chief
Justice Renato Corona.
To date, three officials had been successfully impeached by the House
of Representatives, and two were not convicted. The latter, Chief
Justice Renato C. Corona, on May 29, 2012 has been convicted by the
Senate guilty under Article II of the 1987 Philippine Constitution (of
betraying public trust), with 20-3 votes from the Senator Judges.
In Polish law there is no impeachment procedure defined, as it is
present in the other countries. Infringements of the law can be
investigated only by special Parliament's Committee or (if accusations
involve people holding the highest offices of state) by the State
Tribunal. The State Tribunal is empowered to rule for the removal of
individuals from public office but it is not a common practice.
The President can be impeached by Parliament and is then suspended. A
referendum then follows to determine whether the suspended President
should be removed from office. President
Traian Băsescu was impeached
twice by the Parliament: in 2007 and more recently in July 2012. A
referendum was held on May 19, 2007 and a large majority of the
electorate voted against removing the president from office. For the
most recent suspension a referendum was held on July 29, 2012, but was
invalidated due to low turnout, however the results were heavily
against the president ([better source needed])
The President of
Russia can be impeached if both the
State Duma (which
initiates the impeachment process through the formation of a special
investigation committee) and the Federation Council of
Russia vote by
a two-thirds majority in favor of impeachment and, additionally, the
Supreme Court finds the President guilty of treason or a similarly
heavy crime against the nation and the Constitutional Court confirms
that the constitutional procedure of the impeachment process was
correctly observed. In 1995–1999, the Duma made several attempts to
impeach then-President Boris Yeltsin, but they never had a sufficient
number of votes for the process to reach the Federation Council.
South Korea (Republic of Korea)
Impeachment of Park Geun-hye
According to the Article 65 Clause 1 of Constitution of South Korea,
if President, Prime Minister, or other state council members including
Supreme Court and Constitutional court members, violate the
Constitution or other laws of official duty, the National Assembly can
impeach them. Clause 2 states the impeachment bill may be proposed by
one third or more of the total members of the National Assembly, and
shall require majority voting and approved by two thirds or more of
the total members of the National Assembly. This article also states
that any person against whom a motion for impeachment has been passed
shall be suspended from exercising his power until the impeachment has
been adjudicated and shall not extend further than removal from public
office. Provided, That it shall not exempt the person impeached from
civil or criminal liability.
Two presidents have been impeached since the foundation of the Sixth
Republic of Korea and adoption of the new Constitution of South Korea
Roh Moo-hyun in 2004 was impeached by the National Assembly
but was overturned by the Constitutional Court.
Park Geun-hye in 2016
was impeached by the National Assembly, and the impeachment was
confirmed by the Constitutional Court on March 10, 2017.
In Taiwan, according to the Additional Articles of the Constitution of
the Republic of China, impeachment of the president or the vice
president by the
Legislative Yuan shall be initiated upon the proposal
of more than one-half of the total members of the
Legislative Yuan and
passed by more than two-thirds of the total members of the Legislative
Yuan, whereupon it shall be presented to the grand justices of the
Judicial Yuan for adjudication.
During the crisis which started in November 2013, the increasing
political stress of the face-down between the protestors occupying
Independence Square in Kiev and the State Security forces under the
President Yanukovych led to deadly armed force being used
on the protestors. Following the negotiated return of Kiev's City Hall
on February 16, 2014, occupied by the protesters since November 2013,
the security forces thought they could also retake "Maidan",
Independence Square. The ensuing fighting on 17th through 21st of
February 2014 resulted in a considerable number of deaths and a more
generalised alienation of the population, and the withdrawal of
President Yanukovych to his support area in the East of Ukraine.
In the wake of the President's departure, Parliament convened on
February 22; it reinstated the 2004 Constitution, which reduced
Presidential authority, and voted impeachment of President Yanukovych
as de facto recognition of his departure from office as President of
an integrated Ukraine. The President riposted that Parliament's acts
were illegal as they could pass into law only by Presidential
In the United Kingdom, at least in theory, all persons, whether peers
or commoners, may be prosecuted and tried by the two Houses of
Parliament for any crimes whatsoever. The first recorded
impeachment is that of
William Latimer, 4th Baron Latimer
William Latimer, 4th Baron Latimer during the
Good Parliament of 1376. The last was that of Henry Dundas, 1st
Viscount Melville in 1806.
In the United Kingdom, it is the
House of Commons
House of Commons that holds the power
of initiating an impeachment. Any member may make accusations of any
crime. The member must support the charges with evidence and move for
impeachment. If the Commons carries the motion, the mover receives
orders to go to the bar at the
House of Lords
House of Lords and to impeach the
accused "in the name of the House of Commons, and all the commons of
the United Kingdom."
The mover must tell the Lords that the
House of Commons
House of Commons will, in due
time, exhibit particular articles against the accused, and make good
the same. The Commons then usually selects a committee to draw up the
charges and create an "Article of Impeachment" for each. (In the case
of Warren Hastings, however, the drawing up of the articles preceded
the formal impeachment.) Once the committee has delivered the articles
to the Lords, replies go between the accused and the Commons via the
Lords. If the Commons have impeached a peer, the Lords take custody of
the accused; otherwise, custody goes to Black Rod. The accused remains
in custody unless the Lords allow bail. The Lords set a date for the
trial while the Commons appoints managers, who act as prosecutors in
the trial. The accused may defend by counsel.
House of Lords
House of Lords hears the case. The procedure used to be that the
Lord Chancellor presided (or the
Lord High Steward
Lord High Steward if the defendant
was a peer); but this was when the
Lord Chancellor was both the Lords'
presiding officer and head of the judiciary of England and Wales.
Since both these roles were removed from that office by the
Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which created the
Lord Speaker to
preside over the Lords and made the Lord Chief Justice head of the
judiciary, it is not certain who would preside over an impeachment
trial today. If Parliament is not in session, then the trial is
conducted by a "Court of the Lord High Steward" instead of the House
of Lords (even if the defendant is not a peer). The differences
between this court and the
House of Lords
House of Lords are that in the House all of
the peers are judges of both law and fact, whereas in the Court the
Lord High Steward
Lord High Steward is the sole judge of law and the peers decide the
facts only; and the bishops are not entitled to sit and vote in the
Court. Traditionally, peers would wear their parliamentary robes
during the hearings.
The hearing resembles an ordinary trial: both sides may call witnesses
and present evidence. At the end of the hearing the lords vote on the
verdict, which is decided by a simple majority, one charge at a time.
Upon being called, a peer must rise and declare "guilty, upon my
honour" or "not guilty, upon my honour". After voting on all of the
articles has taken place, and if the Lords find the defendant guilty,
the Commons may move for judgment; the Lords may not declare the
punishment until the Commons have so moved. The Lords may then decide
whatever punishment they find fit, within the law. A royal pardon
cannot excuse the defendant from trial, but a pardon may reprieve a
convicted defendant. However, a pardon cannot override a decision to
remove the defendant from the public office they hold.
Parliament has held the power of impeachment since medieval times.
House of Lords
House of Lords held that impeachment could only apply
to members of the peerage, as the nobility (the Lords) would try their
own peers, while commoners ought to try their peers (other commoners)
in a jury. However, in 1681, the Commons declared that they had the
right to impeach whomsoever they pleased, and the Lords have respected
this resolution. Offices held "during good behaviour" are terminable
by the writ of either quo warranto or scire facias, which has even
been employed by and against well-placed judges.
After the reign of Edward IV, impeachment fell into disuse, the bill
of attainder becoming the preferred form of dealing with undesirable
subjects of the Crown. However, during the reign of James I and
thereafter, impeachments became more popular, as they did not require
the assent of the Crown, while bills of attainder did, thus allowing
Parliament to resist royal attempts to dominate Parliament. The most
recent cases of impeachment dealt with Warren Hastings,
India between 1773 and 1786 (impeached in 1788;
the Lords found him not guilty in 1795), and Henry Dundas, 1st
Viscount Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1806 (acquitted).
The last attempted impeachment occurred in 1848, when David Urquhart
accused Lord Palmerston of having signed a secret treaty with Imperial
Russia and of receiving monies from the Tsar. Palmerston survived the
vote in the Commons; the Lords did not hear the case.
Main article: Pains and Penalties Bill 1820
Queen Caroline, consort of King George IV, was tried by the House of
Commons and acquitted. This began as impeachment proceedings, but then
became a different procedure as a bill of pains and penalties.
The procedure has, over time, become rarely used and some legal
authorities (such as Halsbury's Laws of England) consider it to be
probably obsolete. The principles of "responsible government" require
that the Prime Minister and other executive officers answer to
Parliament, rather than to the Sovereign. Thus the Commons can remove
such an officer through a motion of no confidence without a long,
drawn-out impeachment. However, it is argued by some that the remedy
of impeachment remains as part of British constitutional law, and that
legislation would be required to abolish it. Furthermore, impeachment
as a means of punishment for wrongdoing, as distinct from being a
means of removing a minister, remains a valid reason for accepting
that it continues to be available, at least in theory.
The Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 1967 recommended
"that the right to impeach, which has long been in disuse, be now
formally abandoned". Their recommendation not having been
implemented in the meantime, the Select Committee on Privileges in
1977 declared it "to be of continuing validity" and again urged that
it be adopted. Shortly before this report was issued, in April
1977 the Young Liberals' annual conference unanimously passed a motion
calling on Liberal Party leader
David Steel to move for the
impeachment of Ronald King Murray QC, the Lord Advocate, over his
handling of the
Patrick Meehan miscarriage of justice affair.
Steel did not move any such motion but Murray (now Lord Murray, a
former Senator of the College of Justice of Scotland) agreed that the
power still existed.
The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 1999 noted the
previous recommendations to formally abandon the power impeachment,
and stated that "The circumstances in which impeachment has taken
place are now so remote from the present that the procedure may be
considered obsolete". Notwithstanding, on August 25, 2004, Plaid
Adam Price announced his intention to move for the
Tony Blair for his role in involving Britain in the
2003 invasion of Iraq. He asked the Leader of the House of Commons
Peter Hain whether he would confirm that the power to impeach was
still available, reminding Hain that as President of the Young
Liberals he had supported the attempted impeachment of Murray. Hain
responded by quoting the 1999 Joint Committee's report, and the advice
of the Clerk of the
House of Commons
House of Commons that impeachment "effectively
died with the advent of full responsible Parliamentary
The election court has some of the powers associated with impeachment
cases in other countries, and can remove elected officials from office
in the case of electoral fraud. Lutfur Rahman was the directly elected
mayor of Tower Hamlets, in London until he was removed from office for
breaching electoral rules.
Impeachment in the United States
The impeachment trial of President
Bill Clinton in 1999, Chief Justice
William H. Rehnquist
William H. Rehnquist presiding. The House managers are seated beside
the quarter-circular tables on the left and the president's personal
counsel on the right, much in the fashion of President Andrew
Similar to the British system, Article One of the United States
Constitution gives the
House of Representatives the sole power of
impeachment and the Senate the sole power to try impeachments of
officers of the U.S. federal government. (Various state constitutions
include similar measures, allowing the state legislature to impeach
the governor or other officials of the state government.) In contrast
to the British system, in the
United States impeachment is only the
first of two stages, and conviction during the second stage requires
"the concurrence of two thirds of the members present."
Impeachment does not necessarily result in removal from office; it is
only a legal statement of charges, parallel to an indictment in
criminal law. An official who is impeached faces a second legislative
vote (whether by the same body or another), which determines
conviction, or failure to convict, on the charges embodied by the
impeachment. Most constitutions require a supermajority to convict.
Although the subject of the charge is criminal action, it does not
constitute a criminal trial; the only question under consideration is
the removal of the individual from office, and the possibility of a
subsequent vote preventing the removed official from ever again
holding political office in the jurisdiction where he or she was
Impeachment with respect to political office should not be
confused with witness impeachment.
The Constitution defines impeachment at the federal level and limits
impeachment to "The President, Vice President, and all civil officers
of the United States" who may be impeached and removed only for
"treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors". Several
commentators have suggested that Congress alone may decide for itself
what constitutes a "high crime or misdemeanor", especially since Nixon
United States stated that the Supreme Court did not have the
authority to determine whether the Senate properly "tried" a
defendant. In 1970, then-House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford
defined the criterion as he saw it: "An impeachable offense is
whatever a majority of the
House of Representatives considers it to be
at a given moment in history."
Officials subject to impeachment
The central question regarding the Constitutional dispute about the
impeachment of members of the legislature is whether members of
Congress are officers of the United States. The Constitution grants
the House the power to impeach "The President, the Vice President, and
all civil Officers of the United States." It has been suggested
that members of Congress are not officers of the United States.
Others, however, believe that members are civil officers and are
subject to impeachment.
House of Representatives impeached Senator
William Blount in
1798, resulting in his expulsion. However, after initially hearing
his impeachment, charges were dismissed for lack of
jurisdiction.[page needed] Left unsettled was the question
whether members of Congress were civil officers of the United States.
The House has not impeached a Member of Congress since Blount. As each
House has the authority to expel its own members without involving the
other chamber, expulsion has been the method used for removing Members
Jefferson's Manual, which is integral to the Rules of the House of
Representatives, states that impeachment is set in motion by
charges made on the floor, charges proferred by a memorial, a member's
resolution referred to a committee, a message from the president,
charges transmitted from the legislature of a state or territory or
from a grand jury, or from facts developed and reported by an
investigating committee of the House. It further states that a
proposition to impeach is a question of high privilege in the House
and at once supersedes business otherwise in order under the rules
governing the order of business.
At the federal level, the impeachment process is a two-step procedure.
House of Representatives must first pass, by a simple majority of
those present and voting, articles of impeachment, which constitute
the formal allegation or allegations. Upon passage, the defendant has
been "impeached". Next, the Senate tries the accused. In the case of
the impeachment of a president, the Chief Justice of the United States
presides over the proceedings. For the impeachment of any other
official, the Constitution is silent on who shall preside, suggesting
that this role falls to the Senate's usual presiding officer, the
President of the Senate who is also the Vice President of the United
In theory at least, as President of the Senate, the Vice President of
United States could preside over the impeachment of him/herself,
although legal theories suggest that allowing a defendant to be the
judge in his own case would be a blatant conflict of interest. If the
Vice President did not preside over an impeachment (of anyone besides
the President), the duties would fall to the President pro tempore of
To convict an accused, "the concurrence of two thirds of the members
present" is required. Conviction removes the defendant from
office. Following conviction, the Senate may vote to further punish
the individual by barring him or her from holding future federal
office, elected or appointed. Conviction by the Senate does not bar
criminal prosecution. Even after an accused has left office, it is
possible to disqualify the person from future office or from certain
emoluments of his prior office (such as a pension). If there is no
charge for which a two-thirds majority of the senators present vote
"guilty", the defendant is acquitted and no punishment is imposed.
History of federal impeachment proceedings in the United States
Congress regards impeachment as a power to be used only in extreme
House of Representatives has initiated impeachment
proceedings only 64 times since 1789 (most recently the 2010
impeachment, then removal from office, of Judge
Thomas Porteous of the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana)
with only the following 19 of these proceedings actually resulting in
the House's passing Articles of Impeachment:
Andrew Johnson, Democrat/National Union, was impeached on February 24,
1868 by the
House of Representatives after violating the then-newly
created Tenure of Office Act by a 126 to 47 vote. President Johnson
was acquitted by the Senate, which voted 35–19 to remove him,
falling one vote short of the necessary two-thirds needed to remove
him from office. The Tenure of Office Act would later be found
unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the
United States in dicta.
Bill Clinton, Democrat, was impeached on December 19, 1998, by the
House of Representatives on articles charging perjury (specifically,
lying to a federal grand jury) by a 228–206 vote and obstruction of
justice by a 221–212 vote. The House rejected other articles: one
was a count of perjury in a civil deposition in Paula Jones' sexual
harassment lawsuit against Clinton (by a 205–229 vote), the second
accused Clinton of abuse of power (by a 148–285 vote). President
Clinton was acquitted by the Senate. The votes to remove him from
office fell short of the necessary two-thirds: 45–55 on obstruction
of justice and 50–50 on perjury.
Impeachment proceedings against
Richard Nixon were referred to the
House of Representatives for consideration and ended with his
In 1876, cabinet officer
William W. Belknap
William W. Belknap (former Secretary of War),
resigned before his trial and was later acquitted. Allegedly, most of
those who voted to acquit him believed that his resignation had
removed their jurisdiction.
One Senator, William Blount, in 1797. He was expelled by the Senate,
which declined to try the impeachment. This established the precedent
that Members of Congress are not subject to impeachment, as they can
be removed by action of the House of which they are members without
impeachment or any other action being necessary.
One Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Samuel Chase,
impeached in 1804, was acquitted by the Senate.
Fourteen other federal judges. Seven of these have been convicted by
the Senate and removed, including Alcee Hastings, who was
impeached and convicted in 1989 for taking over $150,000 in bribe
money in exchange for sentencing leniency. The Senate did not bar
Hastings from holding future office, and Hastings won election to the
House of Representatives in Florida. Hastings' name was mentioned as a
possible Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence but was passed over by House Speaker-designate Nancy
Pelosi, presumably because of his previous impeachment and
At least three state governors (Jack C. Walton,
Evan Mecham and Rod
Blagojevich) have been impeached and removed from office.
There have been unsuccessful attempts to initiate impeachment
proceedings against Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and
List of impeached presidents
^ Erskine, Daniel H. (2008). "The Trial of Queen Caroline and the
Impeachment of President Clinton: Law As a Weapon for Political
Reform". Washington University Global Studies Law Review. 7 (1).
^ Demeter, George (1969). Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and
Procedure, 1969 ed., p. 265
^ Andrew Jacobs (April 17, 2016). "Brazil's Lower House of Congress
Impeachment of Dilma Rousseff". The New York Times.
Retrieved November 13, 2016.
Dilma Rousseff to face impeachment trial". BBC News. May
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^ a b "Basic Law of Hong Kong". basiclaw.gov.hk. Hong Kong Special
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^ DON., RILEY, (2017). LOCK HIM UP : impeachments in the united
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^ a b c "Constitution of the Principality of Liechtenstein" (PDF).
hrlibrary.umn.edu. Legal Service of the
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^ "The Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania". Retrieved
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Republic of the
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House of Commons
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^ Commentaries on the Laws of England, William Blackstone, vol. 4
chapter 19 (1769)
^ eg. R v Richardson
^ Raoul Berger, Impeachment: The Constitutional Problems p. 132 (1974,
Harvard University Press)
^ "Report from the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege", HC 34
1967-68 para 115.
^ "Third report from the Committee of Privileges: Recommendations of
the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege", HC 417 1976-77 para
^ "Liberals confident of victory on petrol duty". The Times. April 11,
1977. p. 2.
^ "Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege report", HC 214 1998-99,
^ Hansard HC 6ser vol 424 col 871.
^ "Tower Hamlets election fraud mayor Lutfur Rahman removed from
office". BBC News. April 23, 2015. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
^ U.S. Constitution. Article I, § 3, clause 6.
^ a b U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4
^ "Nixon vs. United States". Illinois Institute of Technology,
Chicago-Kent School of Law. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
^ Gerald Ford's Remarks on the
Impeachment of Supreme Court Justice
William Douglas, April 15, 1970 Archived July 13, 2007, at the Wayback
^ Willoughby, Westel Woodbury (1917). Principles of the Constitutional
Law of the United States. Baker, Voorhis & Company.
^ Oceana (2007). American International Law Cases: Fourth series.
Oceana. ISBN 9780195372892.
^ Senate List of
Impeachment trials Archived December 8, 2010, at
^ Buckner F. Milton (1998). The First Impeachment. Mercer University
Press. ISBN 9780865545977.
^ House Rules "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December
12, 2010. Retrieved December 31, 2010.
^ U.S. Constitution. Article I, § 3, clause 6.
Impeachment History". Infoplease. Retrieved 2013-07-12.
^ "U.S. Senate: 1 Briefing on Impeachment". Senate.gov. Archived from
the original on December 8, 2010. Retrieved November 13, 2016.
Gerhardt, Michael J. The federal impeachm