The next 5 Questions are based on the following passage.
This passage is adapted from a speech delivered by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas on July 25, 1974, as a member of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives. In the passage, Jordan discusses how and when a United States president may be impeached, or charged with serious offenses, while in office. Jordan’s speech was delivered in the context of impeachment hearings against then president Richard M. Nixon.
Today, I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.
“Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation themselves?” “The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men.”* And that’s what we’re talking about. In other words, [the jurisdiction comes] from the abuse or violation of some public trust.
It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office. The Constitution doesn’t say that. The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of the body of the legislature against and upon the encroachments of the executive.The division between the two branches of the legislature, the House and the Senate, assigning to the one the right to accuse and to the other the right to judge—the framers of this Constitution were very astute. They did not make the accusers and the judges...the same person.
We know the nature of impeachment. We’ve been talking about it a while now. It is chiefly designed for the President and his high ministers to somehow be called into account. It is designed to “bridle” the executive if he engages in excesses. “It is designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men.”* The framers confided in the Congress the power, if need be, to remove the President in order to strike a delicate balance between a President swollen with power and grown tyrannical, and preservation of the independence of the executive.
The nature of impeachment: a narrowly channeled exception to the separation of powers maxim. The Federal Convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors, and discounted and opposed the term “maladministration.” “It is to be used only for great misdemeanors,” so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: “We do not trust our liberty to a particular branch. We need one branch to check the other.”
...The North Carolina ratification convention: “No one need be afraid that officers who commit oppression will pass with immunity.” “Prosecutions of impeachments will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community,” said Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, number 65. “We divide into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused.”* I do not mean political parties in that sense.
The drawing of political lines goes to the motivation behind impeachment; but impeachment must proceed within the confines of the constitutional term “high crime[s] and misdemeanors.” Of the impeachment process, it was Woodrow Wilson who said that “Nothing short of the grossest offenses against the plain law of the land will suffice to give them speed and effectiveness. Indignation so great as to overgrow party interest may secure a conviction; but nothing else can.”
Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for petty reasons. Congress has a lot to do: appropriations, tax reform, health insurance, campaign finance reform, housing, environmental protection, energy sufficiency, mass transportation. Pettiness cannot be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems. So today we’re not being petty. We’re trying to be big, because the task we have before us is a big one.
*Jordan quotes from Federalist No. 65, an essay by Alexander Hamilton, published in 1788, on the powers of the United States Senate, including the power to decide cases of impeachment against a president of the United States.