EDITORIAL: Impeachment, conviction process cannot function in age of partisan divide
Impeachment, as a political process, is a method of indicting a president for high crimes and misdemeanors and an act defined by politically and legally vague terminology.
Whether the framers of the constitution were aware of how important or prevalent impeachment would be — 3 of the 45 presidents have been impeached, while former President Richard Nixon certainly would have been if he decided against resigning his office — is up for debate.
The presidency was not as critical an office back in the 18th century, but as executive power — and that of the federal government as well — has grown exponentially since the mid-20th century, so too has the power and impertinence of impeachment.
The faulty wording of the act has led to a political ambiguity on what exactly it covers, which enables politicians who support the president in question to find loopholes — or in certain cases, genuinely legally sound — methods of evading voting for impeachment or conviction.
In 1998, those politicians were Democrats who supported former President Bill Clinton, and just this week, they were Republicans who support President Donald J. Trump.
Legal scholars are still engaged in intense discourse regarding what impeachment retaliates against, with most agreeing that impeachment does not require that the president commits an on-the-books crime. The framers of the constitution were more concerned with a president’s dedication to the perch they inhabit, according to The New York Times.
“The Constitution's framers seemed more preoccupied by the notion of a president's ‘faithfulness to the office’ than on the precise acts that would merit impeachment, said Kent Greenfield, a Boston College constitutional law professor,” the article stated.
Say what you will about Trump’s faithfulness to the office of the presidency, but the fact that impeachment — and by extension, conviction — has no stringent guidelines should be a matter of concern to anyone who champions a functioning government built on the bedrock of checks and balances.
For starters, the Senate must vote with a two-thirds majority to convict a president and formally remove them from office. Mathematically speaking, as the Senate is currently made up of 100 members, 67 have to vote to convict.
We live in a very polarized nation at the moment, something that the impeachment vote within both chambers of Congress made abundantly clear. It is safe to say that, with the ambiguity and wiggle room of current impeachment guidelines, congresspeople will continue to vote along party lines for potential future proceedings, as impeachment lacks a strong written word of law capable of subjecting representatives to intense scrutiny.
The vague constitutional wording gives our Congress too much room for interpretation, which always leads to the interpreter viewing the facts as backing their predetermined, party-approved view.
Take a future instance of clearly impeachable conduct by a president — whether Trump’s actions merited that qualification, again, is not the point here. How can we, as a sovereign public, have any faith in elected officials to break party lines if the loose wording of the law allows them to vote on their whims?
Going back to the earlier point that 67 votes are needed to convict a president: Since the United States Senate expanded to 100 members for the 86th Congress in 1959, only once has a party possessed more than 67 members in the upper chamber. That would be the Democratic Party during the 89th Congress, from 1965-67, when it had 68 seats.
Essentially, a single party never has enough seats to satisfy a partisan conviction verdict, and in a deeply partisan age, an age with no end on the horizon, partisan verdicts are all we should expect to see. Synthesizing that, the modern age has created a horrific mix of variables that points to one conclusion: A president will never be convicted by the Senate, no matter what transgressions they commit.
The logical way to fix this is to strengthen impeachment laws, making them concrete and undeniable. By doing so, senators will feel more pressure to do the right thing going forward, as the public would see through any facade of partisanship and stare straight into the pen of precisely worded law.
Of course, the only way to amend laws is to push your representatives and other elected officials to do so. If these officials refuse, vote them out.
This year is home to a pivotal election, and it is the responsibility of every citizen, from New Brunswick to New Mexico, to vote in their elections.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.