Guest Opinion: Sometimes our Constitution calls on politicians to rise above politics. Impeachment is one of those times.



by Matthew Monahan
President, American Constitution Society Michigan Lawyer Chapter

Impeachment made it into the Constitution because the framers worried their experiment with democracy could fail. What if the executive grew so strong that the legislature would be unable or unwilling to constrain it? Or what about if a corrupt President captured by foreign interests nonetheless won an election? Either scenario posed a threat to ordered liberty.
As a guard against tyrannical bugs in the democratic process, the framers made impeachment a key feature in the republican system. And it was an impressive legal innovation. To be sure, impeachment had deep English roots. But for all its long British history, no one ever dared impeach a Queen or King. Only lesser government officials had to worry about the British version of impeachment. When our Constitution was ratified, even some state governors were immune from it. So, subjecting the country’s commander in chief to impeachment was a calculated way of reminding everyone that the President was no King.

Impeachment was carefully tailored not to run roughshod over the popular will. Of course, the Constitution favored elections as the ideal way to oust someone from office. But impeachment was not about nullifying the people’s choice. Impeachment starts with a fact-finding process in the House of Representatives. And the House is the half of the legislature most accountable to the people. Even if the House approves articles of impeachment, a mere majority vote is not enough to remove the President from office. Two thirds of the Senate must vote to convict. So, assuming Senators vote based on their constituents’ interests, then conviction only happens if a broad, popular consensus deems the conduct to be impeachable.

And of course, impeachment incorporates some measure of due process. Conviction on articles of impeachment requires a trial. And the Senate’s rules for the trial give the President ample protections. At trial, the President has the benefit of a lawyer, the ability to file motions and objections, the power to call and cross examine witness, and even present evidence. Due process is woven into the impeachment process.

All this is to say, trust our system. Whatever your political values, wherever you fall on the political spectrum, and however you regard the President, keep an open mind until the entire process unfolds. The Constitution asks at least that much of our leaders and at least that much of us.

Matthew Monahan currently works as a public defender at the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office. He is president of the American Constitution Society's Michigan Lawyer Chapter.
The American Constitution Society is a Washington, D.C.-based organization which “realizes the promises of the U.S. Constitution by building and leading a diverse legal community that dedicates itself to advancing and defending democracy, justice, equality, and liberty; to securing a government that serves the public interest; and to guarding against the abuse of law and the concentration of power,” according to its website,

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.


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