Federalist No. 65 defends the role of the Senate as the court of trial for impeachments. It is fascinating that this intuitively judicial function would be delegated to the legislative branch – another example of the intricate checks and balances built into the Constitution, perfectly calibrated to preserve our liberty!
In the impeachment process, there are “checks” even within this check, as the U.S. House “has the sole power of impeachment,” (Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution). In other words, the branch of the legislature closest to the people, the U.S. House, has the power to decide if there is sufficient cause to bring charges of impeachment. Our founders believed the people should decide (through their U.S. Representatives), if there is sufficient cause for trial to determine if “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (Article II, Section 4) have possibly taken place.
The power to convict rests with the Senate, however, as the founders believed the great responsibility of impeachment should be shared between the legislative bodies. The Senate was deemed the wiser, mature, and more stable body, capable of such consequential decisions.
“Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel CONFIDENCE ENOUGH IN ITS OWN SITUATION, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an INDIVIDUAL accused, and the REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE, HIS ACCUSERS?”
If the founders had made the impeachment process too easy, it could fall victim to the political whims of the day; too hard, and the people would not be able to remove those who violate the public trust. Much like the amendment process which seems to have found the perfect balance between “that extreme facility, which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty, which might perpetuate its discovered faults,” (Federalist No. 43), the impeachment process is designed with the perfect equilibrium between too facile, and too complex. As Troy Kickler notes, of the seventeen Americans impeached since 1789, only seven have been convicted.
As we journey slowly through the Constitution, with the Federalist Papers as our guiding light, it is awe inspiring to uncover layer after layer of checks, balances, and built in safeguards for our liberty. And to think this beautiful, delicate governmental structure that so ably protects our freedom was designed and agreed upon in a little over three months, in a hot room in Philadelphia! George Washington called it “a little short of a miracle.” With over 200 years of hindsight, and in-depth study, it becomes more and more apparent that a true miracle occurred.
Good night and God Bless!
Tuesday, July 27th, 2010