Explainer: What is impeachment and why is it an option?

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John D. Feerick ’61, Norris Professor of Law and dean emeritus at Fordham Law School,  spoke with American Magazine to help break down the steps of an impeachment process.

“I think the framers of the Constitution saw the electoral process as the roots for changing who might occupy the office or not,” said John D. Feerick, the Norris Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law and dean emeritus, in an interview with America. “But [they]did feel that there needed to be a process to deal with abuse of power…. A public official, in the case of a president, vice president or other civil office of the United States, has enormous power, and the conduct with respect to those powers [is what]raises the question of the impeachment process.”

“It’s the equivalent of an indictment, and there needs to be a trial of the charges that got expressed in the articles of impeachment,” Mr. Feerick said. After a trial in the Senate, presided over by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, that body votes on whether the president is guilty of the charges. This time, two-thirds of the members would have to reach a guilty verdict. Because neither party controls that many Senate seats, conviction would have to be bipartisan.

The phrase “comes from the common law,” said Mr. Feerick, adding that he thought the writers of the Constitution were referring to “how you used your office and a corrupt and evil and wrong use of power that’s damaging the society, the country.”

“If you go back to the Constitutional Convention,” he said, “it was George Mason who…said that we have to have more in the Constitution than ‘treason’ or ‘bribery’ because of the possibility of someone misusing power in a serious way.” Hence, “high crimes and misdemeanors” went into the Constitution.

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