What is impeachment?

“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 4

According to National Public Radio (NPR), college professors and high school and middle school teachers are suddenly finding themselves being asked this very question by their students as our 45th U.S. President, Donald Trump, faces a process that could lead to his removal of office.

Wilkinson College and the Fowler School of Law are turning this national event into a teachable moment.

This is an amazing “happening now” opportunity to examine a subject often confined to textbooks. Most recently, Dr. John Compton (Political Science) and Dr. Ron Steiner (Fowler School of Law) hosted an event for students discussing “The Implications of Impeachment” – (coordinated by Civic Engagement Initiatives) encouraging non-partisan reflection on the implications of impeachment and the legal and political considerations.

“John Compton and I both readily agreed to participate because it’s important to show how academic insight, political history, and critical thinking can contribute to understanding current events. This is a very teachable moment. I was quoting from the debates about impeachment in the Constitutional Convention, contrasting the positions of George Mason and Rufus King as reflected in the notes of James Madison, and from Alexander Hamilton’s arguments in the Federalist Papers, and people were paying close attention because it seemed so relevant and timely. It’s an academic’s dream!” said Dr. Steiner.

The potential impeachment of a President is a rare event. Only two U.S. Presidents have been formally impeached by Congress, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton; and two others have faced formal impeachment hearings, Richard Nixon and now … Mr. Trump.

“I am old enough to remember the Clinton impeachment. I was an undergraduate political science major at the time, and I appreciated the fact that my professors spent a good deal of time discussing the proceedings. We even watched part of the trial in class, which made a major impression on me,” said Dr. Compton.

At the event Dr. Compton tried to impress upon students, “that we are at a very serious constitutional juncture” and although it can be very difficult to set aside partisan leanings, citizens should attempt to weigh the evidence, and the ethical issues, in an unbiased manner.

“Whether President Trump is ultimately impeached and removed or not, the impeachment inquiry will set a precedent concerning presidential powers in the area of foreign policy.  An acquittal (or failure to impeach) will likely erode what used to be a relatively clear boundary between foreign policy and the domestic political interests of the President. A conviction would send a clear message to future Presidents that the two realms should always remain separate,” said Dr. Compton.