articles of impeachment

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Articles of Impeachment

Formal written allegations of the causes that warrant the criminal trial of a public official before a quasi-political court.

In cases of Impeachment, involving the president, vice president, or other federal officers, the House of Representatives prepares the articles of impeachment, since it is endowed with the "sole Power of Impeachment," under Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the Constitution. The articles are sent to the Senate, which has the exclusive power to "try all Impeachments" by virtue of Article I, Section 3, Clause 6.

The use of articles of impeachment against state officials is governed by state constitutions and statutes.

Articles of impeachment are analogous to an indictment that initiates criminal prosecutions of private persons.

Articles of Impeachment and the U.S. Presidency

Articles of impeachment have been drafted against three U.S presidents, Andrew Johnson, richard m. nixon, and William Jefferson Clinton. Nixon resigned before the full House could vote to approve the articles of impeachment prepared by the judiciary committee, while Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted during Senate trials that were bitterly divided along party lines.

On February 24, 1868, the U.S House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson. A week later the House approved 11 articles of impeachment, accusing the president of Obstruction of Justice, thwarting duly enacted federal laws, improvidently removing military governors from the southern states, and attempting to bring into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt, and reproach the Congress of the United States. Most historians consider all of the charges against Johnson to have been politically motivated, as the House of Representatives was controlled by radical Republicans who favored Reconstruction Era legislation that Johnson opposed.

In August 1867, Johnson tried to remove the last staunch Reconstructionist from his cabinet by dismissing Secretary of War edwin stanton and replacing him with General ulysses s. grant. The Senate refused to approve the dismissal, so Johnson replaced Stanton with another general. One article of impeachment charged that Stanton's dismissal violated the Tenure of Office Act, which prohibited the president from dismissing cabinet members without the Senate's approval.

Johnson's trial in the Senate commenced March 13, 1868, and lasted until May 26, 1868. Supreme Court Justice salmon chase presided. The Senate consisted of 45 Republicans and only nine Democrats. Thirty-six votes were required for conviction, so a party-line vote would easily have removed Johnson. After voting on the first three articles of impeachment and failing to convict by a single vote on each of them (7 Republicans sided with 12 Democrats), the Senate adjourned without considering the other eight articles.

On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon. The articles charged the president with obstruction of justice in trying to cover up the Burglary of Democratic Party offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., abuse of power for ordering the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to audit the taxes of political adversaries, and refusal to obey a subpoena from the Judiciary Committee. A week later Nixon complied with a Supreme Court order compelling him to release the transcripts of three tape-recorded conversations of June 23, 1972, which demonstrated his involvement in, and knowledge of, the Watergate cover-up.

For example, the transcript of June 23, 1972, tape showed H. R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff, telling Nixon that campaign money had financed the Watergate burglary and Nixon telling Haldeman to use the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to curb a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation of the money trail. This transcript was widely referred to as the "the smoking gun" tape because some Republicans had said they would not support impeachment until they found evidence of Nixon holding a "smoking gun" of guilt in his hand. With the public turning against Nixon and his approval rating hovering around twenty-five percent, Republican congressional leaders and some of the president's own aides put him under enormous pressure to resign. Three days after the tapes were released to the public, on August 8, 1974, President Nixon resigned. Nixon's resignation ended the impeachment inquiry, and following his resignation, President gerald ford pardoned Nixon for all crimes he may have committed as the nation's chief executive.

On December 19, 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against Democratic president Clinton, accusing the president of having committed the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice to conceal his relationship with former White-House intern Monica Lewinsky. The impeachment trial before the Senate began on January 7, 1999, and ended on February 12,1999. Chief Justice william rehnquist presided.

Like the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, the Clinton impeachment trial was also bitterly divided along party lines. The Senate was comprised of 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats. However, several moderate Republicans privately questioned the propriety of impeaching a president whose job-approval ratings were at approximately 70 percent during a period when the Stock Market was experiencing strong growth. Enough Republicans eventually joined all 45 Democrats in voting to acquit the president on both articles of impeachment, neither article being supported by even a majority of votes, far short of the 67 votes required to convict.

Further readings

Collier, Charles W., and Christopher Slobogin. 1999. "Terms of Endearment and Articles of Impeachment." Florida Law Review 51 (September).

Henshaw, Jaime L. 2001. "Falling Out of Love with America: The Clinton Impeachment and the Madisonian Constitution." Maryland Law Review 60 (winter).


Chase, Samuel, "The Samuel Chase Impeachment Trial" (Sidebar); Impeachment, "How Will the Trial of Bill Clinton Affect Future Impeachments?" (In Focus); Impeachment, "A Challenge to Impeachment" (Sidebar).

articles of impeachment

n. the charges brought (filed) to impeach a public official. In regard to the President, Vice President and Federal Judges, the articles are prepared and voted upon by the House of Representatives, and if it votes to charge the official with a crime, the trial is held by the Senate.

(See: impeachment)

articles of impeachment


ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT. An instrument which, in cases of impeachment, (q.v.) is used, and performs the same office which an indictment does, in a common criminal case, is known by this name. These articles do not usually pursue the strict form and accuracy of an indictment., Wood. Lect. 40, p. 605; Foster, 389, 390; Com. Dig. Parliament, L 21. They are sometimes quite general in the form of the allegations, but always contain, or ought to contain, so much certainty, as to enable the party to put himself on the proper defence, and in case of an acquittal, to avail himself of it, as a bar to another impeachment. Additional articles may, perhaps, be exhibited at any stage of the prosecution. Story on the Sec. 806; Rawle on the Const. 216.
     2. The answer to articles of impeachment is exempted from observing great strictness of form; and it may contain arguments as well as facts. It is usual to give a full and particular answer to each article of the accusation. Story, Sec. 808.

References in periodicals archive ?
Among the options: voting on articles of impeachment against Hall, waiting on the results of a separate criminal investigation, issuing guidelines for all regents or considering another type of reprimand.
You can argue that the House overstepped the line by impeaching the President," said Senator John McCain of Arizona, who had voted to convict Clinton on both articles of impeachment.
Kucinich's articles of impeachment include charges that Bush manufactured a false case for going to war against Iraq.
13, will no longer vote on the complaint but will transmit it as articles of impeachment to the Senate at the earliest next Tuesday.
FRIDAY: If deliberations do not end until late Thursday or if some senators still wish to be heard, the Senate could vote on the articles of impeachment today.
Neither of the two forms of the proposal makes a finding that President Clinton committed perjury or obstructed justice, as alleged in the articles of impeachment passed by the House.
The committee plans to meet next week to discuss specific articles of impeachment.
But if the justice committee finds probable cause for the impeachment complaint, it will draw up a resolution setting forth the articles of impeachment on the basis of the evidence presented to the body, which is then submitted for discussion to a plenary session of the house.
In fact, Hyde argued against censure, noting that the language in one Democratic proposal was more damning than the articles of impeachment themselves.
Under a plan passed last week on a party-line vote, the Senate aimed to cast the final vote on the articles of impeachment on February 12.
The committee adjourned without voting on whether to draft articles of impeachment.
A one-third vote, or 73 of the House members, is needed to elevate the Articles of Impeachment to the 22-member Senate.