Two U.S. presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1998. Richard Nixon would have been impeached but he resigned in 1974. Rumblings of impeaching the winner of the 2016 president elections even took place before the votes were in. Opponents of Hillary Clinton cited her use of a private e-mail server as Secretary of State as reason. Opponents of Donald Trump cited his business interests disqualified him. Possible criminal activities involving the Trump campaign added fuel to those calls.
Restraints on executive power exist because he greatest risk of tyranny comes from the executive branch. That’s partly because the president is a single person. In contrast, Congress and the Supreme Court must persuade a majority of their colleagues in order to act. As well, presidential authority as commander in chief includes the power to deploy weaponry as the head of the military and law enforcement.
The nation’s founding fathers value checks on tyranny. in part because of oppression by the British monarchy. At the Constitutional Convention some delegates opposed making one person responsible for executing the nation”s laws. While it decided in favor of a one-person executive, it adopted provisions aimed at preventing the president from becoming king-like.
Limits including four-year terms and voter approval to stay in office. The founders knew that even in four years the president could do much damage. So they created a mechanism for quicker replacement of the President if needed. The House of Representatives could “impeach” him, an accusation of wrongdoing that would prompt a trial in the Senate. If the Senate voted by two-thirds vote to convict the president, it would automatically result in removal from office. Impeachment can also be used to remove all federal officers.
Guest – Alan Hirsh, author of Impeaching the President: Past, Present and Future. Alan is a Lecturer in Humanities and Chair of Justice and Law Studies at Williams College. He’s also the author of For the People: What the Constitution Really Says About Your Rights and A Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment.