The Role of the House of Representatives inJudicial Impeachment Proceedings: Procedure, Practice, and Data
Susan Navarro Smelcer
Analyst on the Federal Judiciary
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative ProcessMarch 15, 2010
An Overview of the Impeachment Process
While the judiciary was designed by the Framers to be independent of political influence whenmaking decisions, the methods of judicial appointment and removal were designed to be political, in the sense that the process is accountable to the will of the people.3 The President andthe Senate determine who is placed on the bench. The House of Representatives and the Senatedetermine who is removed. As both the President and Congress are subject to the will of thevoters, the appointment and removal process is ultimately a political one.
FN3This process is political in at least three respects: “(1) it is political in the originalist sense of the term, insofar as it is a remedy for “political” crimes against the body politic; (2) it is
politicalin the sense of being a process subject to resolution by popular or political majorities, throughtheir representatives in one of the political branches; and (3) it can be political in the sense of
being openly partisan.” See Geyh,
When Courts and Congress Collide,
p. 116.If, to be impeachable, an offense must be more than poor performance in office or adisagreement with the dominant political regime, must an offense be criminally indictable to beconsidered impeachable? Notably, in England,
the phrase “high crimes” was used to describe political offenses against the state.40 In this sense, “political” did not mean “partisan” but rather
Alexander Hamilton argued, “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public
men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of public trust ... [and] relate chiefly toinjuries
done immediately to society itself.”41 The addition of the word “misdemeanors”
civil officers may also be charged with “minor breaches of ethical conduct,
misuseof power, and neglect of duty, as well as more prolonged, egregious or financially rapacious
This interpretation suggests that, in the eyes of the Framers, a civil officermay be properly impeached for non-indictable conduct that violates the public trust.
The history of impeachments in the United States reflects the view that non-indictable conductmay constitute an impeachable offense.