About March 2019
Impeachment is the constitutional remedy for when elected officials are guilty of a serious wrongdoing. But is it worth the risks? Does it damage the integrity of our institutions, or is it just another one of the measures that we may resort to, although—preferably—not too often?
In the lead essay for this month, Cato Vice President Gene Healy argues that we have exaggerated the damage that an impeachment can do to our constitutional system, and that perhaps this measure should not be regarded as so extreme after all. Answering him will be Prof. Bob Bauer of the New York University School of Law, Prof. Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas, and Ross Garber, a legal analyst for CNN who is among the most experienced impeachment attorneys in the country.
This is a timely topic. It’s also bound to be controversial. Comments are open, but we ask with more than the usual urgency that readers remain temperate and civil as they discuss this month’s essays.
Gene Healy makes the case for impeachment having a somewhat greater role in American public life. It doesn’t indicate a constitutional crisis or even necessarily a crisis of political legitimacy. While serious, impeachment also seeks to address a serious problem, namely wrongdoing by people in offices of trust and authority. We should regard it as suspect, he suggests, that this remedy is so seldom used.
Bob Bauer looks at impeachments in the past and finds that politics has been a brake, not an accelerator. In both cases of presidential impeachment that have occurred so far, the prosecution failed. In the most recent, that of Bill Clinton, by the time the charges came to trial, it was clear that the political fever had broken, and that the president was in no real danger. He suggests that we should fear impeachment much less than we commonly do.
Sanford Levinson says we’re right to fear presidential power, which has not been kept effectively in check. He suggests that presidents might be better restrained by either a congressional vote of no confidence or by a popular recall. Neither is authorized now, but in this essay Levinson argues that perhaps they should be; impeachment, he says, is not enough.
Ross Garber says impeachment isn’t to be taken lightly. As a leading impeachment attorney, he speaks from experience. Impeachment proceedings distract from the important work of governance. It disrupts the ordinary balance of power between branches. It jeopardizes international negotiations, and it is antithetical to democracy. It is a rare remedy, and it ought to remain that way, he argues.
Discussion to continue through the end of the month.
Related at Cato
White Paper: Indispensable Remedy: The Broad Scope of the Constitution’s Impeachment Power September 12, 2018