Constitutional Fetishism and the Clinton Impeachment Debate

24 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 1999  

Michael J. Klarman

Harvard University

Date Written: June 1999


This essay examines what the Clinton impeachment debate reveals about the nature of constitutional interpretation and the function of constitutional rhetoric in political debate. One striking feature of the impeachment debate was the certitude with which politicians and pundits espoused a variety of constitutional interpretations, notwithstanding the thinness of the constitutional law governing impeachment. After showing that the Constitution does not resolve most of the disputed issues raised during the Clinton impeachment, the essay considers the consequences of conducting a transparently political debate in constitutional terms. I argue, first, that debating impeachment questions in constitutional terms enabled politicians to evade responsibility for their actions. Second, by invoking constitutional rhetoric, Republicans implicitly tapped into the anti-majoritarian strand of constitutional law, without ever offering a justification for treating impeachment as an issue upon which minorities warrant protection from majoritarian decisionmaking. Finally, the essay briefly considers what the impeachment debate teaches us about constitutional interpretation.

Suggested Citation

Klarman, Michael J., Constitutional Fetishism and the Clinton Impeachment Debate (June 1999). University of Virginia Law School, Legal Studies Working Paper No. 99-2. Available at SSRN: or

Michael J. Klarman (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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