The proposed articles of impeachment against President Trump call not only for his removal from office, but for his “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.” No doubt the drafters of these articles assume such disqualification would prevent Trump from ever again serving as president. Readers of this blog, however, are aware that this is no longer an uncontested proposition (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and, most recently, here for a few of our prior discussions of this issue).
While I am aware that the president’s conviction and removal, much less disqualification, remain unlikely events, if he were to be disqualified it would be extremely important that there be as much clarity as possible on this issue. I have little doubt that should the Senate disqualify Trump from future office, he would not hesitate to seize upon the argument that the presidency does not constitute an “office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States” within the meaning of the Disqualification Clause. Moreover, members of the House who will vote on articles of impeachment and members of the Senate who will presumably vote on conviction and removal, and possibly on disqualification as well, are entitled to know of the existence of this issue.
I therefore propose that before voting on articles of impeachment, the House consider and approve a resolution along the following lines: “Resolved, That in the considered judgment of this House, the Office of President of the United States of America is an Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States within the meaning of the Sixth Clause of the Third Section of the First Article of the Constitution of the United States.”
Professor Tillman responds to separate comments by Professor Rick Hasen and me (for the latter see my prior post) regarding legal issues that might affect the candidacies of Senator Cruz and former Senator Clinton.
Tillman notes that there is a conflict between two principles here: “one, protecting the democratic process from wrongful manipulation by prosecutors and courts, and two, the rule of law, applying the criminal law without fear or favor to all, even against those who are politically connected.” (In Cruz’s case, the issue does not involve criminal law, but there is a similar tension. On the one hand, it might seem desirable to have an authoritative decision on his eligibility while, on the other, there is a significant risk that his candidacy could be unfairly disrupted by lawsuits, decisions of various courts and actions by boards of election.)
Tillman agrees with me that this conflict presents a problem to which there is no easy solution. He does not believe, however, that my somewhat casual suggestion that the voters be allowed to make the decision except in cases where there “is no reasonable dispute” represents an adequate solution to the problem. Given the limited effort I put into designing this “solution,” I am sure he is right.
Or maybe he was born in New York, and faked his birth certificate to hide the shame. I’m just saying.
Anyway, Professor Seth Barrett Tillman has a new post which compares the amount of attention given to the question of whether Senator Cruz is a “natural born Citizen” within the meaning of Article II, section 2, cl. 5, of the Constitution (a lot) with that given to certain legal issues surrounding a potential indictment of former Senator/Secretary Hillary Clinton (not much). Personally, I can think of a number of reasons for this disparity, the most obvious of which is that the citizenship issue has been publicly and repeatedly raised by another presidential candidate (I forget his name). If Senator Sanders, for example, were to raise one of Tillman’s legal issues in a debate with Clinton, I bet the legal commentariat would be racing to the blogs to express their views.
Be that as it may, I think we should be leery of prosecutors or courts inserting themselves into a presidential election, whether it involves Cruz or Clinton. Unless the legal issue is one that is beyond any reasonable dispute, the risk of politically motivated actors using lawsuits or prosecutions to disqualify candidates seems too high. As Professor Tillman has remarked in a different blog post focusing on the citizenship issue, “ties should go to the runner,” i.e., close questions should be resolved by letting the voters decide.
(see update below) More precisely, Tillman argues here that any attempt to disqualify former Secretary Clinton from the presidency based on conviction of a crime, including 18 U.S.C. § 2701 (which provides that anyone convicted “shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States”), would be unconstitutional. FWIW, I think he is right.
Now if Clinton were to be elected to the presidency while actually serving time in prison, a different set of issues would be presented. But I think we can cross that bridge when we come to it.
(Clarification: Tillman does not believe that section 2701’s disqualification language is unconstitutional, but he believes it would be unconstitutional if it were intended to apply to the presidency and other elected positions. In part for this reason, he would interpret the “office under the United States” language as not applying to elected positions).
Update: former Attorney General Mukasey, to whom Tillman was in part responding, has emailed Professor Eugene Volokh to acknowledge “on reflection, … Professor Tillman’s [analysis] is spot on, and mine was mistaken…. The disqualification provision in Section 2071 may be a measure of how seriously Congress took the violation in question, and how seriously we should take it, but that’s all it is.”
A forthcoming issue of the Quinnipiac Law Review features four articles responding to Benjamin Cassady’s “You’ve Got Your Crook, I’ve Got Mine”: Why the Disqualification Clause Doesn’t (Always) Disqualify, 32 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 209 (2014). The editors were kind enough to ask me to write the foreword, which you can find here. It’s extremely hilarious and entertaining. (Not really).
The articles by Peter Charles Hoffer, Brian C. Kalt, Buckner F. Melton, Jr. and Seth Barrett Tillman are well worth reading.
So I have now read Benjamin Cassady’s “You’ve Got Your Crook, I’ve Got Mine,” 32 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 209 (2014), to which Professor Tillman’s article responds. Cassady makes the case that the Constitution’s Impeachment and Disqualification Clauses do not apply to federal legislators. Much of the article is devoted to explaining why this result makes sense as a policy matter: basically that a crooked legislator is not as dangerous as a crooked judge or executive official and that voters should be able to “pardon” a crooked legislator by returning her to office with full knowledge of her misdeeds.
Cassady discusses at some length the famous case of John Wilkes, a radical and controversial member of Parliament who was expelled multiple times by the House of Commons for libelous comments but continually re-elected by his constituents. He argues that the fall-out from this case ultimately led to the recognition of an “electoral pardon” principle in the United States, pursuant to which it is improper for a legislator to be expelled (or not seated) based on conduct known to her constituents at the time they elect her.
I think Cassady is correct in his interpretation of the Impeachment and Disqualification Clauses. He may or may not be right that the “electoral pardon” principle explains why the Constitution treats legislators differently in this regard than executive or judicial officers. I am not sure myself that this distinction, particularly with regard to disqualification, makes that much sense from a policy standpoint. One might argue that there is no more reason to disqualify an impeached official from a future appointment to an executive or judicial office than from a future election to a congressional seat. After all, if the “voters” (who, in the case of senators, would originally have been the members of the state legislature) can “pardon” a candidate for a congressional seat, why shouldn’t the president and the Senate be permitted to “pardon” a nominee to an executive or judicial office?
Continue reading “House of Cads: Legislators and the Disqualification Clause”