Can President Trump Be Impeached As Mr. Trump? Exploring the Temporal Dimension of Impeachments
Posted: 27 Aug 2020
Date Written: february 28, 2020
Can Congress impeach and convict an officer such as President Trump after he has left office? Most academics considering the issue have concluded that the removal of an executive branch officer or judge from office does not defeat Congress’s jurisdiction to impeach and try the officer. They reason that, even when an officer is no longer in “office,” the House may still impeach and the Senate convict in order to disqualify the individual from serving in public office in the future. Members of Congress tried to galvanize support to impeach both President Clinton and President George W. Bush after they left office.
Although the constitutional language is far from clear, Parliament exercised a continuous power of impeachment prior to the Founding, and many of the newly independent states followed in that tradition. Moreover, on at least one occasion, the House and Senate debated the propriety of continuing the impeachment process after an officer was no longer in office and, in that case, the House impeached and the Senate voted to acquit, but by a slim margin. Nonetheless, I argue that Congress’s impeachment authority is best understood as a weapon of last resort to remove an officer from a position of public power, and that the concomitant power to disqualify an officer from future service does not transform the impeachment remedy into a potential Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of officers for the rest of their lives. Otherwise, the impeachment power would resemble a Bill of Attainder and could be used as a tool to punish opponents of a sitting Congress as well as disqualify leading opposition party candidates who previously had served in offices of public trust from participating in federal politics in the future.
Keywords: impeachment, separation of powers
JEL Classification: K
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation