The US Constitution provides for the removal from office of the president, vice president and other “officers” of the United States (e.g. federal judges, justices of the Supreme Court, etc.). The first step of removal is impeachment.
According to the US Constitution, article of impeachment must first be voted on by the House of Representatives. The sole power to impeach is given to the House and may only be done for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Once the House of Representatives votes and approves articles of impeachment, the accused is officially impeached. However, this is only the first step in removal from office.
Next, the US Senate, functioning like a court, tries the accused. Members of the House who represent the prosecution and present the charges in this trial are called “managers.” The senators function as the jury. The accused will be defended by his own lawyers. Before the senators deliberate, they must take an oath swearing to perform their duties honestly and with due diligence.
After hearing the charges, the Senate will deliberate in private and will vote to either convict or acquit. In order to convict and remove from office, a two-thirds majority is required. If convicted, the judgment is filed with the Secretary of State and the official is immediately removed from office.
During the impeachment process of a president, the US Constitution requires the Chief Justice of the United States (Supreme Court) to preside over the impeachment trial, however in the case of the vice president or other official, the Constitution is silent. In most cases, either the president pro tempore or vice president (constitutionally he is President of the Senate) will preside.
Only two presidents have been impeached: President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and President William Clinton in December of 1998. Both were acquitted and not removed from office.
Only 18 federal officials have been impeached in US history including the recently impeached Judge Samuel B. Kent. Before Kent, President Clinton was the last impeached official. For a complete list of federal officials impeached and results of impeachment, go to the link below.
Impeachment can also occur at a state level according to the rules laid out by the constitutions of the individual states. Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was impeached on charges of corruption and misconduct by the Illinois House of Representatives on January 14, 2009 and the Illinois Senate voted unanimously on January 29, 2009 to remove the governor from office and to bar him from ever running for public office again in the state of Illinois.
For more detail on the Impeachment in the United States, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_in_the_United_States
Photo of the impeachment trial of President William Clinton in 1999 with Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist presiding.
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