In Case You Haven’t Had Enough of the Disqualification Clause Already

Professor Brian C. Kalt has posted this response to Benjamin Cassady’s article on the Impeachment and Disqualfication Clauses. (Hat tip- Seth Barrett Tillman. Apparently there is a whole symposium on this topic, and more articles will be forthcoming). I had to smile when I read Professor Kalt’s opening paragraphs:

Benjamin Cassady has put great effort into an arcane subject: When someone is impeached and convicted, and disqualified from any “office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States,” can that person be elected to Congress? I am one of a group of people who would discuss subjects like these endlessly, but for the fact that members of our group can be hard to find. As such, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity both to read Mr. Cassady’s article (referred to below as Your Crook) and to write this response.

This response will disagree with some things in Your Crook, and the discussion may get a bit animated. But this is the excited disagreement of a kindred spirit, not of a harsh critic. When football fans shout at each other about who was the greatest running back in NFL history, it is because they love football, and because they have more fun probing their disagreements than they would cataloguing their much-more-voluminous common ground. So too with the Disqualification Clause of the Constitution. I agree with Your Crook that disqualification does not apply to election to the House or Senate, and I agree that voters should have as free a hand as the Constitution will allow to elect representatives and senators that others in Congress might find scurrilous.

For what its worth, I pretty much agree with everything that Kalt has to say with regard to the application of the Disqualification Clause to the House and Senate. His claim that Barry Sanders is the greatest running back of all time, on the other hand . . .


Is the Presidency an Office “Under” the United States?

Applying Benjamin Cassady’s “electoral pardon” principle might suggest that the Disqualification Clause is inapplicable to the presidency (and vice-presidency). After all, if voters are allowed to disregard a candidate’s prior impeachment (or expulsion) and elect “their crook” to Congress, why shouldn’t the same hold true for a candidate for president? Professor Tillman maintains that the Disqualification Clause doesn’t apply to any elected offices, whether in Congress or the executive branch, thus consistently preserving the “electoral pardon” principle. Cassady, on the other hand, contends that the Framers did not take the principle that far:

[I]t should be noted that the Presidency was a uniquely American institution, substituting an elected and impeachable chief executive for an English monarch who was legally unreachable because he was presumed incapable of wrongdoing. As a result, the Wilkensian lessons of popular sovereignty and electoral pardon did not develop in the context of the executive branch, and it is sensible that the Framers would settle on a different default rule (impeachment and disqualification) for the elected President than the rule (expulsion and re-election) applied traditionally to the people’s legislators. Put another way, disqualifying an elected President for official wrongdoing couldn’t encroach on the people’s traditional right to pardon and re-elect a chief executive, because no such right existed in English history.

Cassady, 32 Quinnipiac L. Rev. at 276 n. 332.

Frankly, this explanation strikes me as rather circular. As indicated in my last post, however, I don’t find the “electoral pardon” principle all that persuasive in explaining the Disqualification Clause in the first place, and it seems to me that there is a stronger policy reason for disqualifying candidates for the presidency than for other offices, elected or appointed. But, as I am sure Professor Tillman would be quick to remind me, my policy intuitions are not constitutional law.

The precise question is whether the president holds an “Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States” as that phrase is used in the Disqualification Clause. Cassady’s article sheds some light on the origin of this language. He provides examples in English statutory law that referred to some variant of an “Office of honor, Trust or Profit,” where it almost always referred to offices conferred by the Crown. Id. at 278-80. As such, the offices were often identified as being “under” the Crown.

Early state constitutions also used terminology like “offices of honor, trust or profit” to refer generally to positions in the executive and judicial branches. See id. at 280-81 (“The overwhelming majority of examples from state constitutions distinguishes sharply between those who hold offices of honor, trust, or profit and members of the legislature”) & n. 355. Sometimes these offices were identified as being “under this state,” “under this commonwealth,” or “under the government.” See, e.g., Ga. Const. of 1777, art. XI (“No person bearing any post of profit under this State . . . shall be elected as a representative.”).

Continue reading “Is the Presidency an Office “Under” the United States?”

House of Cads: Legislators and the Disqualification Clause

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”

Tillman on the Disqualification Clause

Professor Seth Barrett Tillman has posted this draft article on the Disqualification Clause of Article I, § 3, cl. 7, which provides that “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” Long story short, Professor Tillman argues that an “Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States” extends exclusively to statutory or appointed offices and excludes elected positions such as President, Vice-President, Senator and Representative. Thus, under his theory if a president, vice-president or a civil officer of the United States is impeached, removed from office and disqualified, that individual remains eligible to serve in any of the aforementioned elected positions. Tillman cites a number of pieces of evidence which he believes support this conclusion (some of which we have discussed in prior posts), and he argues that it is consistent with the “democracy canon” that, all other things being equal, the people should be entitled to vote for whomever they please to represent them.

This particular issue may be of limited practical importance, unless you are planning to work on the Porteous 2016 campaign, but it is of some interest with respect to the methodology of constitutional interpretation as well as other constitutional provisions that apply to “officers of” or “offices under” the United States. Related discussions may be found here (“May the President Accept a Foreign Title of Nobility?”), here (“Tillman’s Puzzles for Amar (or Who You Callin ‘Atextual’?)”) and here (“Six Answers for Six Puzzles”).


If the President Violates the Constitution and No One has Standing to Sue, Did he Really Break the Law?

That seems to be the question (of the “if a tree falls in the woods” variety) posed by this New Republic article entitled “The Debt Ceiling: Why Obama Should Just Ignore it.” Although the author cites Garrett Epps and others for the proposition that there is a “strong argument” that the President has the authority to ignore the debt limit, his principal focus is on the proposition that no one would have standing to challenge the action in court. In other words, who cares if its illegal if no one can challenge it?

On the standing question, the article first argues, citing Lou Fisher, that individual members of Congress would lack standing to challenge the President if he should order the Treasury Department to issue debt in violation of the statutory limit. This is certainly true (for the same reason that they lack standing to challenge the Libya war). Less clear is whether the House or Senate would have standing, but for present purposes lets assume that they would not.

Could private parties bring suit? The article suggests that perhaps holders of credit default swaps (who are betting on a U.S. Treasury default) could sue. More likely, holders of congressionally authorized U.S. bonds might sue, arguing that the values of their securities are diluted by the President’s action.

In any event, the issue of standing has nothing to do with the legality of violating the debt limit. There are many things that Presidents can do which are not justiciable (whether for lack of plaintiffs with standing or for other reasons) or which cannot, as a practical matter, be challenged in court. Presidential actions that could theoretically be prosecuted as criminal violations (like, say, violating the torture statute) will almost never end up in court since Presidents control the prosecution mechanism and the pardon power. This doesn’t make the President’s actions automatically legal. Put another way, President Nixon was wrong when he said, “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

It is of course true that Presidents have often taken actions which are of debatable legality and sometimes taken actions which are almost certainly illegal. Perhaps the author means to suggest that presidential lawbreaking may sometimes be justified by extraordinary circumstances. If so, he would not be the first. But, again, this is an entirely separate issue from standing.

Nor is Congress limited to judicial remedies for redress of presidential illegality. One important remedy is provided by the power of the purse:


The framers were familiar with efforts by English kings to rely on extra-parliamentary sources of revenue for their military expeditions and other activities. Some of the payments came from foreign governments. Because of these transgressions, England lurched into a civil war and Charles I lost both his office and his head. The rise of democratic government is directly traceable to legislative control over all expenditures.

The U.S. Constitution attempted to avoid the British history of civil war and bloodshed by vesting the power of the purse squarely in Congress. Under Article I, Section 9, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” In Federalist No. 48, James Madison explained that “the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people.” The power of the purse, he said in Federalist No. 58, represents the “most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

Louis Fisher, The Politics of Executive Privilege 27-28 (2004).

Of course, were the President able to wrest the power of the purse from Congress, as the New Republic author advocates, he would have gone a long way toward making himself into the unaccountable “constitutional dictator” some fear.

If that lamentable situation were to arise, Congress would have little choice but to exercise the ultimate remedy provided by the Constitution (and which the most creative legal scholars or OLC-types have been unable to theorize away). See William Rehnquist, Grand Inquests (1992).


Could Judge Porteous Become President?

To return to a subject from a few weeks ago, Seth Tillman argues that the Disqualification Clause does not authorize the Senate to disqualify an impeached and removed official from serving as president. See The Originalist Who Came In From The Cold: A “New” View of the Incompatibility Clause, the Removal & Disqualification Clause, and the Religious Test Clause–A Response to Professor Josh Chafetz’s Impeachment & Assassination.  The clause authorizes the Senate to disqualify a removed official from holding an “Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States,” but Tillman contends that this term does not embrace the presidency.  Thus, a disqualified official like Judge Porteous would remain eligible for the presidency.

Tillman’s argument begins with the premise that the President is not an “Officer of the United States” within the meaning of Article II.  To substantiate this position, he points to the language of the Impeachment Clause, which states that the “President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States” are subject to impeachment and removal.  Tillman points out that if the President and Vice President were considered to be “civil Officers of the United States,” the clause would more naturally refer to “all other Civil Officers.”   Moreover, a draft of the Constitution did use that very term, but it was removed by the Committee of Style, suggesting that the drafters deliberately chose not to leave the implication that the President is a “civil Officer of the United States.”  See S. Tillman, Opening Statement: Why President-Elect Obama May Keep His Senate Seat After Assuming the Presidency, University of Pennsylvania Law Review PENNumbra, Vol. 157, pp. 134, 137-38 (2008).

While this aspect of Tillman’s argument is controversial, I think it is persuasive. It is supported not only by the text of the Impeachment Clause, but the Commissions Clause, which provides that the President shall commission “all the officers of the United States.”  As Tillman notes, Presidents have never commissioned themselves or their Vice Presidents.  Similarly, Presidents and Vice Presidents are not appointed in accordance with the Appointments Clause, which would seem to be required if they were “officers of the United States.”

But granting that the President is not an “officer of the United States” under Article II, does it follow that he does not hold an “Office under the United States” within the meaning, for example, of the Incompatibility Clause of Article I?  Given that the President clearly holds an “office” (see, eg, Art. II, sect. 1, cl. 1, President “shall hold his Office” during a four year term), it is not obvious, as a textual matter, why his office would not be one “under the United States.”  The fact that the President is not treated as an “officer of the United States” for the specific purposes of Article II would seem to shed little light on the question.

Moreover, if the President does not hold an office under the United States, it would have a number of unsettling consequences: (1) Incompatibility Clause– as Tillman acknowledges (indeed proclaims), a sitting President would be able to simultaneously serve in Congress; (2) Foreign Emoluments Clause– a President would not be covered by this clause and would therefore be permitted to receive gifts and emoluments from foreign governments.  This seems like a peculiar exclusion, particularly since Article II expressly prohibits the President from receiving emoluments (other than his congressionally prescribed compensation) from either the United States or any of the states; and (3) Disqualification Clause– the Senate could not disqualify a convicted official from serving as president (or vice president) in the future.  Thus, if a sitting President were impeached, convicted and removed from office, he could be barred from holding appointed offices (such as federal judgeships or cabinet positions), but not from again serving as president.  

Tillman argues that the fact that these results seem absurd (or nearly so) to us does not necessarily mean that they would have seemed so to the Framers.  Fair enough, but there is little reason (at least that I can see) to think that the Framers would have found these results any more sensible than we do.  So, for the time being at least, I have to stick with the conventional wisdom on this one.

I’m Not Dead . . . . I’m Just in Congress.

In Impeachment and Assassination, Professor Josh Chafetz makes the inventive argument that impeachment, at least presidential impeachment, is best viewed as a metaphorical form of political assassination.  Chafetz argues that impeachable offenses should be viewed as “assassinable” offenses, by which he means the type of offenses that warranted assassination in historical instances known to the Framers.  To illustrate the scope of such offenses, he provides a fascinating description of two examples that were foremost in the mind of Benjamin Franklin– the assassination of Julius Caesar and the execution of Charles I.

Chafetz’s provocative theory is challenged by Seth Tillman in The Originalist Who Came In From The Cold: A “New” View of the Incompatibility Clause, the Removal & Disqualification Clause, and the Religious Test Clause–A Response to Professor Josh Chafetz’s Impeachment & Assassination.  Tillman focuses on Chafetz’s claim that impeachment (and conviction) is the equivalent of “political death.”  Tillman argues that impeachment is unlike death, even metaphorically speaking.

I tend to agree with Tillman on this.  To begin, being a former president, even one who is a private citizen, is not quite political death.  How much like political death it is will depend on a variety of circumstances, of which impeachment is only one.  No president, of course, has ever been impeached and removed, but former President Clinton (impeached but not removed) seems to be enjoying quite an influential post-presidency, although he holds no formal office.

Moreover, as Chafetz acknowledges, the Constitution does not empower the Senate to disqualify anyone from holding state office.  Tillman points out that this means a disqualified official can serve in positions such as Governor or state legislator, offices which are not only significant in themselves but may involve the exercise of powers that affect the federal government (such as a Governor’s appointment of an interim US senator to fill a vacancy).  While the fact that disqualification is not applicable to state officers is understandable on federalism grounds, it tends to attenuate the “impeachment as political death” metaphor.

Tillman points to a number of other positions that a disqualified officer might hold; these include White House advisor (at least if one accepts the proposition that such an advisor is not an “officer” under the Appointments Clause), presidential elector, and delegate to an Article V convention to propose amendments (or to a state ratifying convention).  And, President Clinton might add, First Spouse.

Even more tellingly, as discussed in a prior post, a disqualified officer is still eligible to serve in Congress.  Indeed, a current Member of Congress, Representative Alcee Hastings, was formerly a federal judge who was impeached and removed from office (though not disqualified).  Hastings’ post-impeachment experience can hardly be called a political death.

Perhaps most importantly, the Constitution does not require that the Senate disqualify those who are impeached and convicted.  Thus, if the Senate were ever to remove a sitting President, it is free to decide that his “high crimes and misdemeanors” do not merit disqualification at all.  In that case, the former president would clearly suffer no “political death.”

All of which suggests that the “impeachment as political death” metaphor is considerably  overstated.  Tillman, however, is not content to stop there.  He contends that the Disqualification Clause does not authorize the Senate to disqualify anyone from future service as president (or vice president).  This contention I will address another day.


Article I provides that “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.”  It has long been held by the Senate that disqualification is not an automatic consequence of conviction and removal, but an additional punishment that the Senate may impose in its discretion.  In the case of Judge Porteous, the Senate imposed disqualification for only the third time in history (the other instances were Judge Humphreys in 1862 and Judge Archbald in 1913).

Porteous, therefore, is disqualified from ever holding an “Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.”  But what constitutes such an office?  Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Professor Somin expresses the view that Porteous is prohibited from serving in Congress, while Professor Volokh maintains that a Senator or Representative does not hold an office of “honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”

Volokh’s position is supported by Article II, section 1, clause 2, which prohibits any “Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States” from serving as a presidential elector.  This suggests that a Member of Congress does not in fact hold a office of trust or profit as the Constitution uses that term.  More significantly, the Incompatible Offices Clause (Article I, section 6, clause 2) provides that “no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.”  As a textual matter, it is difficult to see how one could hold an office of honor, trust or profit under the United States (within the meaning of the Disqualification Clause) without simultaneously holding an “Office under the United States” within the meaning of the Incompatible Offices Clause.  The logical conclusion, therefore, would seem to be that a Member of Congress holds neither.

Somin’s position, on the other hand, seems to be based on the instinct that it simply would make no sense to disqualify an impeached and convicted official from serving in any executive or judicial position in the federal government, no matter how minor, but not to disqualify him or her from serving in Congress.  Somin does not offer a textual defense of this position, and, although other scholars seem to believe as he does, in most cases they appear to be making an assumption, rather than grappling with the actual text of the Disqualification Clause.  See, for example, Michael Gerhardt, The Federal Impeachment Process 60 (1996) (suggesting that impeached and removed federal judge Alcee Hastings was able to subsequently serve in Congress only because the Senate had failed to disqualify him) and William McKay & Charles W. Johnson, Parliament and Congress 515 n.43 (2010) (same).  

In Democracy’s Privileged Few 280-81 n.68 (2007), Professor Josh Chafetz endorses the Volokh view and contends that those who read the Disqualification Clause as extending to congressional seats are guilty of a “sloppy” reading of the Constitution.  Seth Tillman, in his recent paper, The Originalist Who Came in From the Cold: A “New” View of the Incompatibility Clause, the Removal and Disqualification Clause, and the Religious Test Clause– A Response to Professor Josh Chafetz’s Impeachment and Assassination 17 n.35, indicates that the Volokh/Chafetz position “appears to be the majority view in legal academia today,” a view Tillman evidently shares.

There are a couple of possible arguments against the Volokh/Chafetz view.  The first is that it leads to a result that the Framers could not have intended.  Why allow the Senate to disqualify an officer from serving in any judicial or executive branch position, but not from serving in Congress?  

I think there are quite plausible responses to this question.  I would begin with the fact that the Constitution specifically empowers each house of Congress to expel its own members, but does not authorize it to disqualify the member from future service in Congress.  This was no accident– the Framers were well aware of the John Wilkes case in England, where a Member of Parliament was repeatedly expelled and then re-elected by his constituents.  The Framers were sympathetic to Wilkes and would not have wanted to foreclose an expelled Member of Congress from seeking to regain his seat (in fact, they considered, but ultimately did not adopt, a provision prohibiting expelling a member twice for the same offense).  See Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few 210-11.

Given this, it makes sense that the Disqualification Clause would not extend to congressional seats.  After all, if an expelled member cannot be disqualified despite having committed misconduct while in Congress, it would seem incongruous to disqualify a former executive or judicial officer from running for a congressional seat.  Moreover, the same democratic logic would argue in favor of allowing a state or local constituency to make the final determination as to whether it wanted to be represented by the former officer, with full knowledge of the fact that he (or she) had been impeached and removed.  Just as the particular constituency might disagree with the House or Senate’s expulsion decision, so it might disagree with the House’s decision to impeach and the Senate’s to convict.

Note that this argument is, if anything, even stronger if one accepts the minority view that Members of Congress themselves are subject to impeachment.  If the Framers did not want to prohibit a member from running for re-election after being expelled, it hardly makes sense that they would have a different view regarding impeachment.  Moreover, regardless of whether impeachment is available for Members or not, it seems unlikely that the Framers would have given the Senate the final word on whether a removed officer could run for a seat in the House.

A stronger argument against the Volokh/Chafetz position may be that it is inconsistent with how Congress has interpreted another provision of Article I, which provides that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust [under the United States], shall without the Consent of Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Price, or foreign State.”  This provision has been interpreted to apply to Members of Congress, and the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, 5 USC 342, which sets forth how foreign gifts and decorations may be accepted, applies to Members.

This interpretation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause does appear to be inconsistent with the Volokh/Chafetz position.  But the textual inferences discussed earlier still strongly suggest that a Member does not hold an “office of honor, trust or profit” under the United States.  Thus, it may simply be that the traditional interpretation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause has been mistaken.

In my judgment, Volokh and Chafetz appear to be correct.  A disqualified officer is not prohibited from running for Congress.  If former Judge Porteous can convince the voters to elect him, he could join former Judge Hastings on Capitol Hill. 

Judge Porteous and Impeachment for Conduct Prior to Federal Appointment

On December 8, the Senate voted to convict and remove from office U.S. District Judge Thomas Porteous, who became only the eighth official (all of whom have been federal judges) in history to be impeached and convicted.  Porteous’s offenses stemmed from a corrupt relationship he developed while serving as a state judge before his appointment to the federal bench.  His conviction therefore constitutes a significant precedent with respect to an open question (previously discussed here) regarding the applicability of impeachment proceedings to conduct that pre-dates appointment.

Porteous’s lawyers argued that the charges against him should be rejected because they were largely based on “pre-federal conduct,” ie, activities which took place  before the judge was appointed to the federal bench.  They contended that “[i]n the history of this Republic, the United States Senate has never before removed a federal official, through the impeachment process, for ‘pre-federal’ conduct.”   The House Impeachment Managers, on the other hand, argued that “conduct which occurs prior to assuming federal office, particularly when the officeholder concealed such conduct during the confirmation process, is an appropriate basis for impeachment and removal from office.”  

There were four articles of impeachment against Porteous.  Articles I and II involved both Porteous’s conduct as a state judge and his conduct after his nomination and appointment to the federal bench.  However, it seems fair to note that Article II, in particular, appears to be predominantly based on pre-federal conduct.  Article IV, moreover, is entirely based on Porteous’s deception and/or failure to disclose information during the confirmation process.

The final vote on conviction was 96-0 on Article I, 69-27 on Article II, and 90-6 on Article IV (Article III is not relevant for present purposes).  Because Senators are not required to give reasons for their votes, one must be cautious in drawing conclusions about the legal precedent established by the conviction.  It seems clear, however, that the Porteous conviction stands, at a minimum, for the proposition that misconduct during the confirmation process, such as lying to or deceiving the Senate, may constitute a “high crime or misdemeanor.”  Moreover, it appears likely that those Senators who voted to convict on Article II believed that Porteous’s pre-federal conduct itself constituted, at least under the circumstances of that case, a high crime or misdemeanor.

Senate Panel Holds the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination Does Not Apply to an Impeachment Trial

Yesterday the Senate panel charged with conducting the impeachment trial of federal district judge G. Thomas Porteous issued an order disposing of certain pretrial motions.   Of particular note was the panel’s decision to reject Porteous’ motion to suppress his immunized testimony given before a special Fifth Circuit committee which investigates misconduct by federal judges.

The question presented, the Senate panel notes, is one of first impression, namely whether an impeachment trial is a “criminal case” within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on compelled self-incrimination.  It is a difficult question because the Constitution is notably ambiguous on this point.

On the one hand, a reader of the original Constitution would likely conclude that impeachment is a type, albeit a unique type, of criminal proceeding.  Impeachable offenses are defined in terms of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”   Impeachment is implicitly treated as a criminal proceeding in article II, where the President is granted power to “grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment,” and in article III, where it is stated that the “trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury.”  These exceptions would be unnecessary if impeachment were not, at least in some sense, a criminal proceeding.

On the other hand, it is difficult to square this conclusion with the language of the Bill of Rights.  The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in “all criminal prosecutions,” which, if applicable to impeachment, would nullify the impeachment process explicitly set forth in the original Constitution.  Similarly, though somewhat less clearly, the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment has been construed to apply to all criminal offenses, and would therefore be applicable to impeachment if it were considered a criminal proceeding.

In his book on impeachment, Raoul Berger surveyed these competing provisions and concluded that “the Framers might well have overlooked some lack of harmony in detail.”  In short, he believes that the Framers utilized the criminal terminology of the English impeachment process, but, by limiting the consequences of impeachment to the nonpenal ones of removal and disqualification, created a new type of proceeding that is essentially non-criminal in nature.  Michael Gerhardt and Charles Black argue that the impeachment process should be viewed as a hybrid or quasi-criminal type of proceeding.

The conclusions of these impeachment scholars inform the discussion, but do not necessarily answer the specific question presented to the Senate impeachment committee:  should impeachment be considered a criminal proceeding for purposes of the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment?  The committee seems to assume that Senate precedent rejecting the application of double jeopardy to an impeachment proceeding necessarily means that the self-incrimination clause is likewise inapplicable.  This does not necessarily follow.

Nonetheless, I tend to agree that the committee reached the correct result here.  Berger suggests the analogy between impeachment, designed to remove an unfit officer, and deportation, designed to remove an alien who is not entitled to remain the country.  Although the latter may entail painful consequences, it is not a criminal proceeding to which the self-incrimination privilege applies.  Similarly, to the extent that the privilege is designed to protect against coerced confessions or wrongful convictions in ordinary criminal cases, it would seem to have little relevance to an impeachment proceeding.  The Senate is entitled to consider Porteous’ immunized testimony.