Rep. Jamie Raskin’s colleagues credit his “positive spirit” with launching the two-term congressman into the spotlight as the chief prosecutor in former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, which in Democrats’ eyes makes him the perfect adversary of the man they view as the most negative force in American politics.
The 45th president and the Maryland Democrat have starkly different views about the Constitution and American politics, but they share one thing in common: Both were sworn into office in January 2017.
Mr. Trump has left Washington, for now, while Mr. Raskin, a longtime Maryland state lawmaker and constitutional scholar, is cementing his place on Capitol Hill with an impeachment trial debut on the national political stage.
“This is such a constitutional moment, and our impeachment case describes this as the worst constitutional failure of any president in American history, and there is just no one better to make that case than our leading constitutional scholar, Jamie Raskin,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, California Democrat.
Allies of the former president and his legal team feel much differently about Mr. Raskin and the entire impeachment process.
From their viewpoint, House Democrats have drafted nine resolutions to impeach Mr. Trump and the latest one was rushed and passed without congressional hearings in violation of due process.
Mr. Raskin will open the impeachment trial Tuesday by arguing that Mr. Trump incited a deadly insurrection in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by claiming for months that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.
Mr. Raskin has been called a hypocrite for leading the House Democrats’ case because his first act as a congressman was challenging Florida electors to contest the 2016 presidential election results that put Mr. Trump in the White House.
“Given he is one of the people who objected to state electoral votes four years ago, it just seems like an odd choice. It is such an easy argument for Republicans to make,” said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice.
Mr. Raskin grew up close to Washington politics, both figuratively and literally.
He was born in the District of Columbia and now represents affluent Montgomery County in Maryland, adjacent to the city. His father worked for President Kennedy.
He kept politics in the family, successfully running for state Senate in 2007 and serving nearly a decade before running for Congress. His wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, was the deputy secretary of Treasury in the Obama administration.
After receiving his degree from Harvard Law School in 1987, Mr. Raskin coupled his love for the law with politics, working as general counsel for a nonprofit founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He also represented independent presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1996 over being excluded from presidential debates.
Outside of the courtroom, Mr. Raskin has worked as a constitutional law professor at American University Washington College of Law, co-founding the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, which has expanded to law schools across the country. The program aims to promote advocacy and democratic engagement for advanced law students.
A Takoma Park resident, he is a liberal Democrat representing Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. He took over the seat of Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat now serving in the Senate.
Mr. Van Hollen recently quipped that Mr. Trump “already blinked” in the impeachment trial showdown by declining Mr. Raskin’s invitation to testify.
“As a constitutional law professor and tireless defender of our democracy, Rep. Jamie Raskin understands the weight of this moment in history and the actions that must be taken to hold the former president accountable for his intolerable acts,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “Rep. Raskin is known for relentlessly pursuing the truth.”
As a politician, Mr. Raskin built a record of defending same-sex marriage and abolishing the death penalty. He also attempted to eliminate the Electoral College by sponsoring a House bill to adopt a national popular vote.
Mr. Raskin’s liberal bona fides garnered respect from liberal activists, who describe him as a patriot.
“He is a shrewd politician. He has an ability to make good judgment and exemplifies what is best about patriotism in this country, so all in all, I think what a wonderful choice for Congress and the country to have him at the helm,” said Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice.
House Democrats’ case against Mr. Trump will look different from the former president’s first impeachment trial, where the prosecutor’s role was shared between Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California. They argued that Mr. Trump abused the power of his office by requesting a probe into the Biden family’s business dealings in Ukraine.
Mr. Nadler and Mr. Schiff, who were committee chairmen, had more seniority than Mr. Raskin. But Mr. Raskin can bring a more unified, narrow focus to the second impeachment trial, according to his supporters.
Stephen Wermiel, a fellow constitutional law professor at American University, said his colleague can “persuade by force of intellect.”
“He knows how to be a pragmatist, how to make important allies and how to work with others to get things done,” Mr. Wermiel said.
Mr. Raskin has prepared for this moment amid great personal loss. His 25-year-old son, Thomas, died by suicide on New Year’s Eve after battling depression. The family buried him on Jan. 5, the day before the Capitol Hill riot.
Hours later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, tasked Mr. Raskin with drafting the article of impeachment against Mr. Trump. Democrats say the president mobilized his supporters to interrupt the joint session of Congress convened to accept the 2020 election results.
“One of the most remarkable things about Raskin is his irrepressible positive spirit. If there was ever a person who could grieve profoundly and at the same time think about how to harness that sorrow to push forward, he would be it,” Mr. Wermiel said.
Still, Mr. Raskin faces an uphill climb to get a conviction. Senate Republicans overwhelmingly say an impeachment trial against a former president is unconstitutional.
Just five Republican senators sided with Democrats in a vote last month against the legality of holding the proceedings.
The breakdown suggests Mr. Raskin has to persuade more than a dozen of them to join Democrats if he hopes to convict Mr. Trump, which requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes.
The upper chamber is split 50-50 between the parties. Democrats claim the majority because Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, casts the tiebreaking vote.
“He is going to bring forward the strongest possible arguments knowing that history probably more than Senate Republicans will be judging this,” Mr. Huffman said.
Former colleagues of Mr. Raskin from his days in the Maryland Senate said he doesn’t necessarily need a guilty verdict to put on a successful case.
“Jamie was prepared for this before he ever went down there. I cannot emphasize how well he knows the Constitution,” said state Sen. Ronald N. Young, Frederick Democrat, who served five years with Mr. Raskin.
“I would be absolutely shocked if he doesn’t put on one of the best cases you could ever imagine.”
Mr. Young recalled his colleague debating the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in the state Senate, noting another lawmaker was quoting the definition of marriage from the 1984 version of Black’s Law Dictionary.
Without referring to any material, Mr. Raskin immediately corrected his colleague with the most up-to-date definition from the latest edition of the legal dictionary.
“Just numerous times, when something came up like that, he had it at his fingertips and spoke up,” Mr. Young said. “I couldn’t think of anybody who could lead these hearings better than Jamie.”