Understanding Impeachment: What Does it Mean if Someone is Impeached?

Impeachment is a legal process that serves as a check on the powers of the highest offices. Insight into the impeachment process, its historical significance and implications, and the cases of notable U.S. Presidents.

An Overview of Impeachment

Impeachment is a constitutional process in several democratic nations, largely designed to remove public officials from their positions due to misconduct. Misconduct can vary from criminal offences to abuses of power or violation of public trust. The impeachment process provides a legal mechanism to hold ‘checks and balances’ within the government. Although similar in concept, the impeachment processes vary considerably between countries.

The Impeachment Process in the United States

In the United States, impeachment involves a two-step process essentially undertaken by the two chambers of Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. As per the Constitution of the United States, the House of Representatives has the power to impeach a federal official by a majority vote. If successful, the official is said to have been ‘impeached.’ However, impeachment in this context does not necessarily mean immediate removal from the office.

  • The House of Representatives votes on Articles of Impeachment. If at least one obtains a majority vote, the official is impeached and the process moves to the Senate.
  • The Senate then conducts a trial overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A two-thirds majority vote is required to convict the official.
  • Upon conviction, the official is removed from their role and may also be barred from holding any future public office.

Impeachment: Case Studies

Perhaps the most widely discussed impeachments in modern American history are those of Presidents Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump. Interestingly, none of these impeachments resulted in conviction and removal from the office. In each case, the Senate either acquitted the President or did not reach the necessary two-thirds majority vote for conviction.

More recently, the impeachment of President Donald Trump in 2019 and again in 2021 has helped to redemocratize the term.

The Significance of Impeachment

While impeachment can be a politically contentious issue, it serves a vital role in maintaining governmental accountability. It symbolizes the rule of law and emphasizes that no one, not even the highest offices, are above it.

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