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Impeachment Trial in the Senate

"To doom to honor or to infamy..."

Dateline: 12/22/98

In Federalist Papers No. 65, Alexander Hamilton explains why the proposed Constitution he and his friends are writing appoints the Senate, rather than the Supreme Court, to conduct trials of impeachment.

"The awful discretion which a court of impeachments must necessarily have, to doom to honor or to infamy the most confidential and the most distinguished characters of the community, forbids the commitment of the trust to a small number of persons."

So, on January 7, 1999, the United States Senate will convene a Court of Impeachment to exercise their awful discretion in deciding the future, be it in honor or infamy, of William Jefferson Clinton.

Members of the Court
Like in any other trial, there will be a judge, jury, attorneys, and defendant.

Judge: William Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court
Jury: the 100 Members of the United States Senate
Defendant: William Clinton, 42nd President of the United States

The Prosecution:
A select group of United States Representatives referred to as House "Managers." Currently, this list includes: Henry Hyde of Illinois, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Bill McCollum of Florida, George Gekas of Pennsylvania, Charles Canady of Florida, Steve Buyer of Indiana, Ed Bryant of Tennessee, Steve Chabot of Ohio, Bob Barr of Georgia, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Chris Cannon of Utah, James Rogan of California and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Since a Senate Trial will not begin until after the 106th Congress convenes in January, the House will have to vote on the House Managers again, so the list above might change. (Preliminary Member Information, 106th House)

The Defense:
President Clinton's personal attorneys and members of the White House Counsel's Office.

The Trial Procedure
First of all (and this is important) the entire trial process, once started, can be dropped completely by a simple majority vote (51 votes) of the Senate. The Senate may also adopt a compromise or censure resolution. But if they don't, the impeachment trial proceeds like this:

Rules for the trial are part of the "Standing Rules of the Senate" and will be followed as written unless modified by a unanimous vote or by a motion to suspend the rules. (Requires a 2/3 vote of the Senate.)

  • In preparation for the actual trial, the Presiding Officer of the Senate will swear in all 100 Senators as jurors by delivering the following oath:
"I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of (Name of Defendant) now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. So help me God."
  • The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (William Rehnquist), to serve as trial judge, will be similarly sworn in.

At this point, the trial has officially started and consideration of a censure resolution or abandonment of the trial would be in order.

  • The Sergeant At Arms of the Senate will deliver a Writ of Summons to President Clinton. The summons will tell the President the date and time at which he is required to appear. The President may appear himself or send his attorneys to represent him.

Once any impeachment trial begins (Senate trials are held for all impeached officers of Federal Government), the Senate rarely considers any bills, resolutions, or other legislative business.

Except for verdict deliberations, the trial is open to the public and press. The Senate can, however, vote to close any or all parts of the trial.

  • Traditionally, the House Managers present the case against the accused first. Then, attorneys for the accused present the case for the defense. For both sides, opening statements are limited to one hour. Closing statements have no prescribed time limit, but a limit is usually set by unanimous consent of the Senate.
  • Witnesses can be called, sworn in, and questioned by the House Managers and attorneys for the President. Senators are not allowed to speak during the trial. If a Senator wants to question a witness, the Senator must submit the question in writing. The Presiding Officer of the Senate will then read the question to the witness. (Witnesses stand, facing the Senate while speaking.)
  • Once all witnesses have been heard and closing statements made, the entire Senate will go into closed session to deliberate a verdict. This could take from hours to days.
  • The Senate will then return to open session to vote on each Article of Impeachment. Each Article is voted on separately. The vote will be a voice roll call. When each Senator's name is called, they must stand at their desk and answer "guilty" or "not guilty." To say the very least, a dramatic moment.

If 67 Senators (2/3 of the Senate) votes "guilty" on any single Article of Impeachment, the President will be convicted and removed from office.

  • In the event of conviction, the Senate may then vote to prohibit the President from holding any public office in the future. This optional action is called "Disqualification" and requires only a simple majority (51 Senators) vote.
  • If convicted in the Senate and removed from office, the President remains subject to possible criminal prosecution for his impeachable acts.

And finally, for better or worse, the impeachment process will end. Hamilton's "awful discretion" will have been exercised and this terrible, but well crafted tool of a free democracy will be put back on the shelf. Hopefully, many years will pass before we see it needed again.

Happy Holidays, everyone! The 106th Congress convenes on January 6, 1999. It should be interesting.


Related Links
Impeachment
The latest events, history, and research resources about the Clinton impeachment.

Broadcast News Coverage
Mining Co. Guide Tim Hosfeldt has assembled this great guide to current broadcast coverage of the Clinton impeachment.

The Impeachment Process
Overview of the entire process and related research resources.

Opinion Poll
Should the Senate vote to remove President Clinton from office? Cast you vote or view current results.


Hey, this stinking link won't work!
All the web links in this feature worked the day I uploaded this page. Promise. But, since I do not usually go back and verify links in feature articles, some links, like even good bologna, will go bad with time. So, if you find a link in this feature that won't work, and you really, really want to find it, just email me, and I'll try to find the new link for you. Thanks for your understanding.

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