- - Tuesday, January 19, 2021

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
— Article II, Section 4: United States Constitution

President Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives for a second time, becoming the first president in American history to hold this title. The question now is, will he be the first to be removed? One must understand the House and the Senate’s role as the Founders intended them to function.

Representatives in the House represent the people of the United States, while the Senate’s function is to protect the states’ interests. This bicameral system balances power between their sometimes-competing interests, creating a check on one another. Being required to reach a consensus on legislation promotes compromise and a more deliberative, more thoughtful process.

Madison states that House members “will be taken from that class of citizens which will have least sympathy with the mass of the people and be most likely to aim at an ambitious sacrifice of the many to the aggrandizement of the few.”

The House will have the power of the purse, giving it enormous influence on policy formulation. Impeachment’s ability adds to its impact, as it crosses over to the Executive and Federal branches. The Framers were always concerned about an all-powerful legislature and designed a Senate crafting a bicameral legislature having its own internal system of checks and balances.

Another important concept to note is the wording of the article of impeachment within the Constitution. What does high crimes and misdemeanors mean? How is this interpreted? It probably had an understood meaning at the period; notice it says treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

So, you have the principle of ejusdem generis (“of the same kind”) at work. In other words, treason and bribery are types of high crime and misdemeanor, which further contextualizes the term. It is suspect that misdemeanor at the time carried a different connotation from its meaning today of a relatively minor offense. Further research in corpus linguistics could yield interesting insights. 

As we are witnessing yet another impeachment trial looming for President Trump, let us not forget the complexities of interpretation and the ever-hard decision of what constitutes the terms laid out in the Constitution. What seems like a simple and straightforward task on the outside is a monumental feat within the confines of the trial.

• Michael Deel lives in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and currently attends Johns Hopkins University in the Master of Arts in Government program. He can be reached on Twitter @MDeel2022 or by e-mail at mdeel1@jhu.edu.

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