impeachment


impeachment
/im peech"meuhnt/, n.
1. the impeaching of a public official before an appropriate tribunal.
2. (in Congress or a state legislature) the presentation of formal charges against a public official by the lower house, trial to be before the upper house.
3. demonstration that a witness is less worthy of belief.
4. the act of impeaching.
5. the state of being impeached.
[1350-1400; ME empechement < AF. See IMPEACH, -MENT]

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Criminal proceeding instituted against a public official by a legislative body.

In the U.S. the president, vice president, and other federal officers, including judges, may be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. The House draws up articles of impeachment that itemize the charges and their factual bases. Once approved by a majority of House members, the articles are submitted to the Senate, which holds a trial. At its conclusion, each member votes for or against conviction on each article; conviction requires a two-thirds majority. A convicted official can be removed from office. The Constitution of the United States specifies that an officer is to be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors"; experts agree that impeachment is permitted for noncriminal misconduct (e.g., violation of the Constitution). Two U.S. presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached; both were acquitted. In 1974, articles of impeachment were drawn up against Pres. Richard Nixon, who resigned before formal proceedings could begin. In Britain, where the House of Commons prosecutes and the House of Lords judges impeachment proceedings, impeachment was formerly a means by which Parliament could get rid of unpopular ministers, usually court favourites protected by the monarch. The procedure fell into disuse in the early 19th century, when cabinet ministers became responsible to Parliament rather than to the sovereign.

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law
 in common law, a criminal proceeding instituted against a public official by a legislative body. In Great Britain the House of Commons (Commons, House of) serves as prosecutor and the House of Lords (Lords, House of) as judge in an impeachment proceeding. In the federal government of the United States the House of Representatives (Representatives, House of) institutes the impeachment proceedings, and the Senate acts as judge. In Great Britain conviction on an impeachment has resulted in fine and imprisonment, and even in execution, whereas in the United States the penalties extend no further than removal and disqualification from office.

      In England impeachment originated in the 14th century, when it became a means of initiating criminal proceedings based on “clamour,” or outcry. The Good Parliament of 1376 produced the first recognized cases of impeachment, the most important being that of William, 4th Baron Latimer, who had been closely associated with the government of Edward III. Subsequent subjects of impeachment have often been political figures, usually royal ministers. Latimer's case also marks the point at which impeachment became not merely a means of initiating criminal proceedings but also a method of trial.

      After the mid-15th century, impeachment fell out of use until the 17th century, when it was revived as a means by which Parliament could get rid of unpopular ministers, usually court favourites protected by the king. From 1621 until 1679, many of the chief officers of the crown were brought down or at least jeopardized by this powerful parliamentary weapon, among them the 1st Duke of Buckingham (Buckingham, George Villiers, 1st Duke of) (1626), the Earl of Strafford (Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, 1st earl of, Baron Of Raby) (1640), Archbishop William Laud (Laud, William) (1642), the Earl of Clarendon (Clarendon, Edward Hyde, 1st earl of, Viscount Cornbury) (1667), and Thomas Osborne (Leeds, Thomas Osborne, 1st Duke of, Marquess of Carmarthen, Earl of Danby, Viscount Latimer of Danby, Viscount Osborne of Dunblane, Baron Osborne of Kiveton), Earl of Danby (1678). In the last case it was decided that the king's pardon could not stop an impeachment against his minister.

      The use of impeachment gradually waned as the 18th century progressed, mainly because it proved too blunt a political instrument by which to attack the king's ministers. The proceeding's limitations were clearly evident in the unsuccessful impeachment trial (1788–95) of Warren Hastings (Hastings, Warren). In the early 19th century the acceptance of the principle that cabinet ministers are responsible to Parliament (rather than to the sovereign) made impeachment unnecessary, and the procedure fell into disuse after the unsuccessful trial of Lord Melville (Melville, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount, Baron Dunira) in 1806.

      In the United States the impeachment process has rarely been employed, largely because it is so cumbersome. It can occupy Congress for a lengthy period of time, fill thousands of pages of testimony, and involve conflicting and troublesome political pressures. Repeated attempts in the U.S. Congress to amend the procedure, however, have been unsuccessful, partly because impeachment is regarded as an integral part of the system of checks and balances in the U.S. government.

      Andrew Johnson (Johnson, Andrew) was the first U.S. president ever impeached. In 1868 he was charged with attempting to remove, contrary to statute, the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton (Stanton, Edwin M), with inducing a general of the army to violate an act of Congress, and with contempt of Congress. Johnson was acquitted by a margin of a single vote. In 1974 the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives voted three articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon (Nixon, Richard M.), but he resigned before impeachment proceedings in the full House could begin. In December 1998 the House of Representatives voted to impeach President William J. Clinton (Clinton, Bill), charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice in investigations of his relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. In the trial, the Senate voted not guilty on the perjury charge (55–45) and not guilty on the obstruction of justice charge (50–50); since 67 guilty votes are needed for a conviction, President Clinton was acquitted.

      Every U.S. state except Oregon provides for the removal of executive and judicial officers by impeachment. Exact procedures vary somewhat from state to state, but they are all similar to federal impeachment.

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Universalium. 2010.

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