Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Great American Hero Discusses Impeachment

First of all, why impeach? Aren't you just letting your anger get ahold of you?
Has the President committed offenses, and planned, and directed, and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? That's the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.

My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.
But if we don't have the votes to convict, today, isn't it wrong to even begin impeachment proceedings? Even if we get this through the House, it'll never get through the Senate. Wouldn't it reflect badly on the House to vote impeachment when it still might fail in the Senate?
It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office. The Constitution doesn't say that. The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of the body of the legislature against and upon the encroachments of the executive. The division between the two branches of the legislature, the House and the Senate, assigning to the one the right to accuse and to the other the right to judge, the framers of this Constitution were very astute. They did not make the accusers and the judgers -- and the judges the same person.
Well, wouldn't it be better to just wait for the President's term to expire, rather than taking this extraordinary step? I mean, with so little time remaining in this President's term, what's the point?
We know the nature of impeachment. We've been talking about it awhile now. It is chiefly designed for the President and his high ministers to somehow be called into account. It is designed to "bridle" the executive if he engages in excesses. "It is designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men." The framers confided in the Congress the power if need be, to remove the President in order to strike a delicate balance between a President swollen with power and grown tyrannical, and preservation of the independence of the executive.

"No one need be afraid" -- the North Carolina ratification convention -- "No one need be afraid that officers who commit oppression will pass with immunity."
But won't impeachment only further inflame political tensions in this country?
"Prosecutions of impeachments will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community," said Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, number 65. "We divide into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused." I do not mean political parties in that sense.
But aren't you really talking impeachment because you just hate this maladministration?
The nature of impeachment: a narrowly channeled exception to the separation-of-powers maxim. The Federal Convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors and discounted and opposed the term "maladministration."
Okay, but the impeachment of President Clinton demonstrated how impeachment can be abused- and what happens to the party that so abuses it.
"It is to be used only for great misdemeanors," so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: "We do not trust our liberty to a particular branch. We need one branch to check the other."

The drawing of political lines goes to the motivation behind impeachment; but impeachment must proceed within the confines of the constitutional term "high crime and misdemeanors." Of the impeachment process, it was Woodrow Wilson who said that "Nothing short of the grossest offenses against the plain law of the land will suffice to give them speed and effectiveness. Indignation so great as to overgrow party interest may secure a conviction; but nothing else can."
But shouldn't we be focused on passing laws, establishing our agenda, and looking to the future?
Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for petty reasons. Congress has a lot to do: Appropriations, Tax Reform, Health Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, Housing, Environmental Protection, Energy Sufficiency, Mass Transportation. Pettiness cannot be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems. So today we are not being petty. We are trying to be big, because the task we have before us is a big one.
Well, shouldn't we allow the President time to respond? Shouldn't we allow the courts to decide whether he really has to?
We were further cautioned today that perhaps these proceedings ought to be delayed because certainly there would be new evidence forthcoming from the President of the United States. There has not even been an obfuscated indication that this committee would receive any additional materials from the President. The committee subpoena is outstanding, and if the President wants to supply that material, the committee sits here.
But we can't impeach just because we're angry, and just because we hate the President's agenda! That would be partisan, it would be perceived as being partisan, and we would suffer the political consequences. You need actual grounds for impeachment.
At this point, I would like to juxtapose a few of the impeachment criteria with some of the actions the President has engaged in. Impeachment criteria: James Madison, from the Virginia ratification convention. "If the President be connected in any suspicious manner with any person and there be grounds to believe that he will shelter him, he may be impeached."
Okay, so the Scooter Libby commutation might meet that criterion. But is that really enough?
Justice Story: "Impeachment" is attended -- "is intended for occasional and extraordinary cases where a superior power acting for the whole people is put into operation to protect their rights and rescue their liberties from violations."
Domestic spying? Habeas corpus? Okay. Anything else?
The Carolina ratification convention impeachment criteria: those are impeachable "who behave amiss or betray their public trust."
You're talking about Iraq, right? Deliberate lies, both to Congress and to the public, to incite support for a war that has turned out to have been unjustified, a violation of international law, and a moral blight.
James Madison again at the Constitutional Convention: "A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution."
You mean like using signing statements to circumvent Congress's unique Constitutional lawmaking authority? Or back to domestic spying?
If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder.

Now, in case you haven't noticed, this is actually from a speech, not a question-and-answer session. I've transposed a few paragraphs, but added nothing. You can read the speech here. You can listen to it here.

I will close with one more quote, from another great American hero:
Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.

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