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Daily Beast’s David Dow: Impeach the SCOTUS!


First David gives us a “history” lesson on the impeachment process:

You think the idea is laughable? Thomas Jefferson disagreed with you.

Jefferson believed Supreme Court justices who undermine the principles of the Constitution ought to be impeached, and that wasn’t just idle talk. During his presidency, Jefferson led the effort to oust Justice Samuel Chase, arguing that Chase was improperly seizing power. The Senate acquitted Chase in 1805, and no Justice has been impeached since, but as the Supreme Court threatens to nullify the health-care law, Jefferson’s idea is worth revisiting.

A couple things. One, impeachment proceedings start in the House. Which, at this time, is controlled by the Republican party. Unless I’ve missed something, I really don’t think that the impeachment of Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas is high on John Boehner’s to-do list.

And, more important, is why the Senate acquitted Chase. Via Wikipedia:

The Senate voted to acquit Chase of all charges on March 1, 1805. He is the only U.S. Supreme Court justice to have been impeached.

The impeachment raised constitutional questions over the nature of the judiciary and was the end of a series of efforts to define the appropriate extent of judicial independence under the Constitution. It set the limits of the impeachment power, fixed the concept that the judiciary was prohibited from engaging in partisan politics, defined the role of the judge in a criminal jury trial, and clarified judicial independence. The construction was largely attitudinal as it modified political norms without codifying new legal doctrines.

The acquittal of Chase — by lopsided margins on several counts — set an unofficial precedent that many historians say helped ensure the independence of the judiciary. As Chief Justice William Rehnquist noted in his book Grand Inquests, some senators declined to convict Chase despite their partisan hostility to him, apparently because they doubted that the mere quality of his judging was grounds for removal. Furthermore, federal judges became much more cautious by avoiding the appearance of political partisanship. All impeachments of federal judges since Chase have been based on allegations of legal or ethical misconduct, not on judicial performance.

In other words, the same case that Dow cites in favor of impeaching conservative justices today rendered it difficult to impeach judges for partisan reasons.

Sorry, David. Impeachment. Ain’t. Happening. But, keep writing the link-bait. We do enjoy reading it.


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