ith all the talk about impeaching Donald Trump, I decided to take a look at what presidents can be impeached for. Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution specifies presidents can only be impeached for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Treason and bribery are pretty self-evident. There was a lot of concern expressed during the framing of the Constitution about a president who might commit the nation to a bad treaty or betray the country if in the pay of a foreign power. There was also discussion of a president trying to buy votes in the Electoral College or otherwise obtain office by corrupt means.
But “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”, what does that mean? It may surprise you to learn that it does not have to be an actual crime. It can be an abuse of power, a breach of trust, or neglect of duty. That would seem to cover a president who just decided not to show up for work for six months. Other grounds for impeachment arguably include “maladministration”, attempts to subvert the Constitution, and serious public misconduct.
All of this is a little vague, but it’s not nothing. What we get from this is that you’re not supposed to be able to impeach a president simply because you disagree with the president’s policies or you don’t like the president’s political party. Are you listening, resisters? The language of the Constitution disposes of most of the claims made by the hotheads running around saying President Trump should be impeached.
I drew most of this analysis from an article by Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor who was a legal advisor to the Obama White House. Lots of people are very suspicious of Sunstein. He wrote a book arguing that every generation reinvents the Constitution anew. Way too fluid for my liking. But his article about impeachment appears to be straightforward and accurate. If I’m wrong, there are very sharp minds in my audience who will let me know right away, as they have in the past.
“What the Constitution says about impeachment” by Cass Sunstein
A Constitution of Many Minds : Cass R. Sunstein : 9780691133379