US Impeachment Process: How Do I Work This?
May 15, 2017 10:10 PM   Subscribe

What are the House rules for beginning impeachment? Legal or historical training, or government experience, might qualify you to answer. Please, no guesswork. Thanks!

From the (hyper-vague) wikipedia site:
Impeachment proceedings may be commenced by a member of the House of Representatives on her or his own initiative, either by presenting a list of the charges under oath, or by asking for referral to the appropriate committee. The impeachment process may be initiated by non-members. For example, when the Judicial Conference of the United States suggests a federal judge be impeached, a charge of actions constituting grounds for impeachment may come from a special prosecutor, the President, or state or territorial legislature, grand jury, or by petition.
my bold, ed.
there's a ton of generalized discussion on the interwebs about 'what makes an impeachable offense'. i am curious about how the ball gets rolling. the above quote implies that any member can begin it with a sworn statement. like...maxine could walk in tomorrow and get things started. or, possibly a 'non-member'...

i'm guessing the 'thugs could stop the process easily because some fucking committee is majority controlled. but could house dems or (???) at least get some shit talked about by throwing the turd into the record? and the press?
posted by j_curiouser to Law & Government (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The New Yorker had a good report on this a couple of weeks ago. That was before the Comey firing; there's an update in the podcast episode here.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 10:31 PM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

From the Wikipedia article on the impeachment process against Nixon, it looks like any House member can put forward a resolution to impeach, which then goes to the Judiciary Committee. Multiple resolutions to impeach Nixon were introduced, some even before Watergate, and most of them never got out of committee.

Impeachment Process. Given enough evidence (and political will) the Judiciary Committee will issue "articles of impeachment" (each article delineating a specific crime/cause for impeachment) to the House as a whole, which will then vote on each article. Simple majority passes, and if any articles are passed then the subject is by definition "impeached." After which the Senate conducts hearings and a trial based on the passed articles of impeachment. 2/3rds majority convicts, and the convicted is removed from office. So Bill Clinton was impeached, but then acquitted by the Senate.

The impeachment process may be initiated by non-members.

Referring again to the Nixon article (and greatly simplifying the whole Watergate thing), a D.C. grand jury was investigating and examining evidence on the break-in at the Watergate office building as part of its regular duties in handing down indictments for criminal offenses, only more and more evidence kept showing up linking White House and/or Nixon campaign staff to the break-in, to the point where if Nixon had been a private citizen, he would have been arrested and tried for a variety of crimes. Since there was some doubt about whether a sitting President could actually be arrested and tried, this evidence got turned over to a special "impeachment" investigative group created by the Judiciary Committee. I think this is the kind of thing the "initiated by non-members" is referring to - not that Joe Blow can wander in off the street and introduce a resolution to impeach to the House, but that evidence of impeachable offenses doesn't have to originate with the US Congress but can come from an outside source. (Which is why some people are very interested in the NY State Attorney General's various investigations into Trump businesses and associates - if the AG collects enough evidence to get a grand jury to indict Trump for corruption/fraud/tax evasion/violating laws about having financial dealings with certain foreign nations/etc. then Trump is in the position Nixon was in, with one legitimate government entity looking to prosecute a person who's a member of a different government entity.)

Legal or historical training, or government experience, might qualify you to answer. Please, no guesswork.

Um, you do get that impeachment of a President has happened so rarely and so far apart in time that even "Barack Obama the constitutional law professor's" answer would contain no small amount of guesswork, yeah? . . . .
posted by soundguy99 at 11:52 PM on May 15, 2017 [9 favorites]

In the first part, they're talking about essentially bringing a complaint for investigation. A Member of the House can swear under oath that High Crimes X, Y, and Z occurred, OR someone other than a Member of the House who typically has some supervisory or investigative authority can recommend the House pursue impeachment -- that's why it mentions the Judicial Conference who could be like, "yo, this judge we oversee is hella corrupt, please to impeach, kthx." (I don't think they can just generally recommend impeachment of whomever they please.) A special prosecutor or grand jury would have investigative authority for crimes and would therefore forward their recommendation to the House who makes the decision whether to move forward with charges. The president has supervisory authority over many impeachable officials so could recommend their impeachment.

(I have literally no idea how or against whom a state would bring a request for impeachment, seems old timey.)

Anyway, the complaint/official allegations can come from various sources; the House Judiciary Committee will debate and investigate and if they believe there's grounds, will prepare Articles of Impeachment and present them to the House. The House typically puts in place special rules for debating the Articles. If they vote to impeach (by a simple majority), the Articles are forwarded to the Senate who will conduct the trial on those charges.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:56 PM on May 15, 2017

(also, I think when Wikipedia mentions a petition to impeach, they mean a legal petition -- like an official filing in a court case -- not a petition with 20,000 signatures.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:01 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Btw, I was in the UK during the Clinton impeachment, and the BBC's explanations of the process were really top-notch, better than I got as a government major in college. They had to explain the whole system from the ground up -- they couldn't assume viewership had familiarity with the Constitution or the House -- so they didn't skip over anything like a lot of US coverage did, assuming viewers could fill in the blanks. I kept learning interesting Constitution facts I did not know from the BBC because it was all so unprecedented and they were explaining the minutiae so clearly. You might go digging through their archives from the Clinton impeachment for some of their explainers.

(It was a very weird time to be an American abroad, as I imagine right now is as well.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:08 AM on May 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

like...maxine could walk in tomorrow and get things started.

She could introduce a resolution.

or, possibly a 'non-member'...

These would still have to work their way through a member to get formally introduced.

i'm guessing the 'thugs could stop the process easily because some fucking committee is majority controlled.

Yes; the Judiciary Committee. All legislative committees are majority controlled.

but could house dems or (???) at least get some shit talked about by throwing the turd into the record?

No. Even if introduced, an impeachment resolution can just be ignored. Just being ignored is what happens to ninety-odd percent of bills and resolutions introduced.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:31 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

The problem with trying to give a precise answer is that the Constitution just says that a majority vote of the House is required, everything else is a matter of Congressional procedure, and that procedure is almost completely under the control of the Speaker and the majority party. As a matter of practicality and tradition, impeachment proceedings would move through the judiciary committee, and the judiciary committee can pretty much take up charges of impeachment from whatever source the chair (currently Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia) chooses. There's no way to force the committee to take up the charges without the consent of the chair or the support of a majority of the committee.

i'm guessing the 'thugs could stop the process easily because some fucking committee is majority controlled.

All the committees are majority controlled. That's one of the fundamental perks of being in the majority. Without it, it would be impossible for any majority to move their legislative agenda forward.
posted by firechicago at 4:40 AM on May 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

You want the relevant section of Jefferson's Manual. An impeachment resolution can originate from a few different sources, but nowadays it would be from the Judiciary Committee.

An impeachment resolution can be brought to the floor as a privileged matter at pretty much any time by any member, but it is a terrible idea to do so. You don't want to have the House vote down your half-assed accusation without a good investigative record that you could use in the Senate trial. It would kill off your momentum. The Democratic leadership had to watch the House floor like hawks during the Watergate investigation to keep some Congressmen who wanted to impeach Nixon for bombing Cambodia from bringing up a vote too early.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:58 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

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