high crimes and misdemeanors
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The charge of high crimes and misdemeanors covers allegations of misconduct by officials. Offenses by officials also include ordinary crimes, but perhaps with different standards of proof and punishment than for non-officials, on the grounds that more is expected of officials by their oaths of office.


Britain

The impeachment of the King's Chancellor,
Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk, 1st Baron de la Pole, (c. 13305 September 1389) of Wingfield Castle File:Arms of De La Pole.svg, Arms of De la Pole, of Wingfield Castle, Earls and Dukes of Suffolk: ''Azure, a fess between three leopar ...
in 1386 was the first case to use this charge. One charge under this heading alleged that de la Pole broke a promise to
Parliament In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws and overseeing the g ...
to follow the advice of a committee regarding improvement of the
kingdom Kingdom may refer to: Monarchy * A type of monarchy * A realm ruled by: **A king, during the reign of a male monarch **A queen regnant, during the reign of a female monarch Taxonomy * Kingdom (biology), a category in biological taxonomy Arts an ...
. Another charge said that because he failed to pay a ransom for the town of
Ghent Ghent ( ; Dutch language, Dutch: ''Gent'' ; French language, French: ''Gand'' ; traditional English: Gaunt) is a city and a Municipalities of Belgium, municipality in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is the capital and largest city of the East ...

Ghent
, the town fell to the French. The 1450 impeachment of
William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, (16 October 13962 May 1450), nicknamed Jackanapes, was an English magnate, statesman, and military commander during the Hundred Years' War. He became a favourite of the weak king Henry VI of England ...

William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk
, a descendant of Michael, was the next to allege charges under this title. He was charged with using his influence to obstruct justice as well as
cronyism Cronyism is the practice of Impartiality, partiality in awarding jobs and other advantages to friends or trusted colleagues, especially in politics and between politicians and supportive organizations. For instance, this includes appointing "croni ...
and wasting public money. Other charges against him included acts of high treason. Impeachment fell out of use after 1459, but Parliament revived it in the early 17th century to try the King's ministers. In 1621, Parliament impeached the King's
Attorney General In most common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ''Black's Law Dictionar ...
,
Sir Henry Yelverton Sir Henry Yelverton (29 June, 1566 – 24 January, 1630) was an English lawyer, politician, and judge. Life The eldest son of Sir Christopher Yelverton and his wife Margaret Catesby, Henry Yelverton was born on 29 June 1566, most likely at Ea ...
, for high crimes and misdemeanors. The charges included failing to prosecute after starting
lawsuit A lawsuit is a proceeding by a party or parties against another in the civil Civil may refer to: *Civic virtue, or civility *Civil action, or lawsuit *Civil affairs *Civil and political rights *Civil disobedience *Civil engineering *Civil ...
s and using authority before it was properly his. After the
Restoration Restoration is the act of restoring something to its original state and may refer to: * Conservation and restoration of cultural heritage * Restoration style Film and television * ''The Restoration'' (1909 film), a film by D.W. Griffith starr ...
the scope of the charge grew to include
negligence Negligence (Lat. ''negligentia'') is a failure to exercise appropriate and/or ethical ruled care expected to be exercised amongst specified circumstances. The area of tort A tort, in common law jurisdiction, is a civil wrong (other than br ...

negligence
, and abuse of power or trust while . For example, charges in the impeachment of
Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford Admiral of the Fleet (Royal Navy), Admiral of the Fleet Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford, Privy Council of England, PC (1653 – 26 November 1727) was a Royal Navy officer and politician. After serving as a junior officer at the Battle of Sole ...
in 1701 included many violations of trust in his positions. In this case, he abused his position in the
Privy Council A privy council is a body that advises the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 "he head of state He or HE may refer to: ...
to make profits for himself; as
Treasurer of the Navy The Treasurer of the Navy, originally called Treasurer of Marine Causes or Paymaster of the Navy, was a civilian officer of the Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare Naval warfare is human Humans ('' ...
he embezzled funds; and as
Admiral of the Fleet An admiral of the fleet or fleet admiral (equivalent rank to admiral of the navy Admiral of the Navy was the highest possible rank in the United States Navy ), (unofficial)."''Non sibi sed patriae''" ( en, "Not for self but for country") ...
he got a commission for the pirate
William Kidd William Kidd, also known as Captain William Kidd or simply Captain Kidd (c. 1655 – 23 May 1701), was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean The Indian Ocean is the thir ...

William Kidd
.


United States

"High crimes and misdemeanors" is a phrase from Section 4 of
Article Two of the United States Constitution Article Two of the United States Constitution establishes the executive branch The executive is the branch of government exercising authority in and holding Moral responsibility, responsibility for the governance of a State (polity), state. T ...
: "The
President President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a Chief Executive Officer, chi ...

President
,
Vice President A vice president, also director in British English, is an officer An officer is a person who has a position of authority In the fields of sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationsh ...
and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on
Impeachment Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of collective) ...
for, and Conviction of,
Treason Treason is the crime In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority. The term ''crime'' does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition,Farmer, Lindsay: "Cr ...
,
Bribery Bribery is defined by ''Black's Law Dictionary ''Black's Law Dictionary'' is the most widely used law dictionary Image:Legal Dictionaries.jpg, 300px, Several English and Russian legal dictionaries A law dictionary (also known as legal dictionary) ...

Bribery
, or other ''high Crimes and Misdemeanors''." "High," in the legal and common parlance of the 17th and 18th centuries of "high crimes," is activity by or against those who have special duties acquired by taking an oath of office that are not shared with common persons. A high crime is one that can be done only by someone in a unique position of authority, which is political in character, who does things to circumvent justice. The phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors," used together, was a common phrase when the U.S. Constitution was written and did not require any stringent or difficult criteria for determining guilt but meant the opposite. The phrase was historically used to cover a very broad range of crimes. The Judiciary Committee's 1974 report "The Historical Origins of Impeachment" stated: "'High Crimes and Misdemeanors' has traditionally been considered a '
term of art Jargon is the specialized terminology associated with a particular field or area of activity. Jargon is normally employed in a particular Context (language use), communicative context and may not be well understood outside that context. The contex ...
', like such other constitutional phrases as 'levying war' and 'due process.' The Supreme Court has held that such phrases must be construed, not according to modern usage, but according to what the framers meant when they adopted them. In 1807, Chief Justice
John Marshall John Marshall (September 24, 1755July 6, 1835) was an American politician and lawyer who served as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, Chief Justice of the United States from 1801 to 1835. Marshall remains the List of Justices of the ...

John Marshall
wrote of the phrase "levying war": Since 1386, the English parliament had used the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” to describe one of the grounds to impeach officials of the crown. Officials accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors” were accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” etc.
Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin ( April 17, 1790) was an American polymath A polymath ( el, πολυμαθής, ', "having learned much"; Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-E ...

Benjamin Franklin
asserted that the power of impeachment and removal was necessary for those times when the Executive "rendered himself obnoxious," and the Constitution should provide for the "regular punishment of the Executive when his conduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused."
James Madison James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Fathers of the United States, Founding Father who served as the 4th president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. ...

James Madison
said that "impeachment... was indispensable" to defend the community against "the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate." With a single executive, Madison argued, unlike a legislature whose collective nature provided security, "loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic." The process of impeaching someone in the House of Representatives and convicting in the Senate is difficult, made so to be the balance against efforts to easily remove people from office for minor reasons that could easily be determined by the standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors". It was
George Mason George Mason IV (October 7, 1792) was an American planter, politician and delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention The Constitutional Convention (contemporarily known as the Federal Convention, the Philadelphia Convention, or the Gran ...

George Mason
who offered up the term "high crimes and misdemeanors" as one of the criteria to remove public officials who abuse their office. Their original intentions can be gleaned by the phrases and words that were proposed before, such as "high misdemeanor," "maladministration," or "other crime."
Edmund Randolph Edmund Jennings Randolph (August 10, 1753 September 12, 1813) was an American attorney Attorney may refer to: Roles * Attorney at law, an official title of lawyers in some jurisdictions * Attorney general, the principal legal officer of (or advis ...
said impeachment should be reserved for those who "misbehave."
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (February 25, 1746 – August 16, 1825) was an early American politician, statesman of South Carolina, American Revolutionary War, Revolutionary War veteran, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention (United States) ...

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
said, It should be reserved "for those who behave amiss, or betray their public trust." As can be seen from all these references to "high crimes and misdemeanors," the definition or its rationale does not relate to specific offences. This gives a lot of freedom of interpretation to the House of Representatives and the Senate. The constitutional law by nature is not concerned with being specific. The courts through precedence and the legislature through lawmaking make constitutional provisions specific. In this case the legislature (the House of Representatives and the Senate) acts as a court and can create a precedent. In Federalist No. 65,
Alexander Hamilton Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757July 12, 1804) was an American statesman, politician, legal scholar, military commander, lawyer, banker, and economist. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States that was negotiat ...

Alexander Hamilton
said, "those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself." The first impeachment conviction by the
United States Senate The United States Senate is the Upper house, upper chamber of the United States Congress, with the United States House of Representatives, House of Representatives being the Lower house, lower chamber. Together they compose the national Bica ...
was in 1804 of John Pickering, a judge of the
United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire (in case citations, D.N.H.) is the Federal district court whose jurisdiction comprises the state of New Hampshire New Hampshire () is a U.S. state, state in the New Eng ...
, for chronic intoxication. Federal judges have been impeached and removed from office for
tax evasion Tax evasion is an illegal attempt to defeat the imposition of taxes A tax is a compulsory financial charge or some other type of levy imposed on a taxpayer (an individual or Legal person, legal entity) by a governmental organization in order ...
, conspiracy to solicit a bribe, and
making false statements Making false statements () is the common name for the United States federal crime, federal process crime laid out in Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which generally prohibits knowingly and willfully making wikt:false, false or ...
to a grand jury. President
Andrew Johnson Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 July 31, 1875) was the 17th president of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. He assumed the presidency as he was vice president at the time of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln Abraham L ...

Andrew Johnson
was
impeached Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body or other legally constituted tribunal initiates charges against a public official An official is someone who holds an office (function or mandate, regardless whether it carries an actual ...
on February 24, 1868, in the United U.S. House of Representatives on eleven articles of impeachment detailing his "high crimes and misdemeanors",The Trial of Andrew Johnson. On Articles of Impeachment exhibited by the House of Representatives
in accordance with Article Two of the United States Constitution. (The Senate fell one vote short of conviction.) The House's primary charge against Johnson was with violation of the Tenure of Office Act, passed by Congress the previous year. Specifically, he had removed , the
Secretary of War The secretary of war was a member of the United States President of the United States, president's United States Cabinet, Cabinet, beginning with Presidency of George Washington, George Washington's administration. A similar position, called eithe ...
from office and replaced him with
John Schofield John McAllister Schofield (September 29, 1831 – March 4, 1906) was an American soldier who held major commands during the American Civil War The American Civil War (also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civi ...

John Schofield
, but it was unclear if Johnson had violated the act as Stanton was nominated by President
Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln (; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government ...

Abraham Lincoln
and not by Johnson. During the
impeachment of Bill Clinton The impeachment of Bill Clinton occurred when Bill Clinton William Jefferson Clinton (''Birth name, né'' Blythe III; born August 19, 1946) is an American politician and attorney who served as the 42nd president of the United States ...
in 1999,
White House Counsel The White House counsel is a senior staff appointee of the president of the United States whose role is to advise the president on all legal issues concerning the president and their administration. The White House counsel also oversees the Offi ...
Charles Ruff described a "narrow" interpretation of "high crimes and misdemeanors" as requiring "a standard that the framers intentionally set at this extraordinarily high level to ensure that only the most serious offenses and in particular those that subverted our system of government would justify overturning a popular election". Writing in 1999, Mark R. Slusar commented that the narrow interpretation seemed to be most common among legal scholars and senators.


See also

*High misdemeanor


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:High Crimes And Misdemeanours English law Law of the United Kingdom Parliament of England Parliament of Great Britain Parliament of the United Kingdom United States law