Removing Federal Judges

24 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2008


Scholars have in recent years raised a host of questions about Article III's provisions for judicial independence. In a provocative recent essay, Professors Sai Prakash and Steve Smith challenge the conventional view that federal judges may be removed from office only through the relatively cumbersome process of House impeachment followed by a trial in the Senate. Prakash and Smith base their argument against impeachment-and-removal exclusivity on the history of good behavior tenure and the role that courts played in adjudicating claims of misbehavior at common law. Prakash and Smith contend that this judicial mode of removing from office remains available for federal judges, something Congress may revive through the passage of appropriate legislation.

This Essay disputes the Prakash and Smith thesis. It shows that the English common law mode of removal from office through judicial proceedings had essentially disappeared by the time of the framing. Both in England, where the Act of Settlement of 1701 regulated judicial office, and in the newly independent states, constitutional documents almost invariably assigned the ouster of superior court judges to the legislative branch of government. The drafting and ratification debates reveal that the framers of the federal Constitution made a similar choice, providing a legislative mode of removing misbehaving judges and foreclosing alternative modes. In the end, the evidence sustains the conventional view that the Constitution permits the removal of federal judges only through the legislative process.

Suggested Citation

Pfander, James E., Removing Federal Judges. University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 74, p. 1227, 2007, Available at SSRN:

James E. Pfander (Contact Author)

Northwestern University School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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