December 27, 2023 | SCOTUS Issues Term’s First Decision – Finds ADA Case Moot
|In the United States, the word “impeachment” is merely the term for the proceeding that begins the process of removing an official from the government. Thus, while this particular section of the Constitution sets the broad outline for what is expected of a federal judge (that he or she sit in “good Behavior”), other officials can be impeached as well, including the President of the United States himself (see Article II, Section 4). The process of what is colloquially known as impeachment contains two steps. The first step, the one that is technically the impeachment, is taken by the House of Representatives. By a simple majority, the House can vote to impeach a federal official. This process is akin to an indictment in an ordinary criminal proceeding. Then, once the official is impeached, the Senate holds a trial to determine if the official should be convicted, in which case the official is removed from office. The Senate, however, needs a two-thirds majority to convict. Very few federal officials have ever been impeached, and even fewer have been convicted and removed from office. By way of example, President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, but he was not convicted by the Senate. The impeachment of federal judges, in fact, is often an even more murky process than the impeachment of other officials. While Article II, Section 4 contains some vague guidelines for what warrants impeachment proceedings – and this section relates to federal officials in general – Article Three only explains that judges are supposed to remain in office only while in “good Behavior.” This is an incredibly open-ended standard. Only 15 federal judges have ever been impeached and only eight have ever been convicted and removed (most recently, Judge Thomas Porteous of Louisiana in 2010). But even then, the “articles of impeachment,” the list of misconduct the accused is on trial for, have described quite a wide range of inappropriate behavior.
|Examples of Impeached Federal Judges
|By way of example, the only Supreme Court Justice to ever have been impeached (though not convicted) was Samuel Chase, in 1805. Chase had criticized a decision made by President Jefferson (the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801, effectively eliminating many newly created federal judgeships held by Federalists, a political party opposed by Jefferson). Jefferson led the charge to have Chase impeached. Officially, the articles of impeachment also included several other actions taken by Chase as a lower court judge, accusing him of mishandling his job. However, though the House voted to impeach, the Senate acquitted. More recent examples provide better illustrations of how impeachment is used in the modern era. For example, Walter Nixon (no relation to the former U.S. President), a federal judge in Mississippi, was impeached and convicted in 1989. Nixon had committed perjury by lying under oath to investigators, falsely denying his involvement in helping the son of a business partner get out of being prosecuted for a drug-related charge.