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What is impeachment?

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  Mike Todd

Who has been impeached?

The American Constitution allows civil officers, including the President and Vice President, to be impeached. This is a process which, in the normal course of law would be the process of charging and taking someone to trial - but with impeachment, the trial is in the Senate and the penalties are limited to removal and barring from office.

The first impeachment was William Blount, a senator from Tennessee, in 1797. Since then, impeachment proceedings have been taken against over sixty officers, although only sixteen (including Clinton) have ended up facing trial in the Senate. Nixon resigned after the Articles of Impeachment had been filed by the Judiciary Committee, but before the House of Representatives voted on them. Andrew Johnson is, so far, the only President to have actually had a trial in the Senate. The charges against him were that he had removed the War Secretary without the approval of the Senate, as required under the Tenure of Office Act - ironically, this very Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1926.

The following table shows all those who have been through impeachment and trial in the Senate (those highlighted in pink were convicted). Note that the dates given are for the year in which they were impeached, and the year in which the final judgment was made. Some references give the dates as the start of the impeachment process.

Date of
Name Office Tried for Result
1798 William Blount Senator Inciting Indians against king of Spain to wrest Louisiana and Florida from Spain and return them to the English. Dismissed 1799
Senate voted 14:11 that he wasn't a civil officer
1803 John Pickering District Judge Drunkenness, tyrannous conduct, blasphemy and disregard for statutes Convicted 1804
1804 Samuel Chase Associate Justice of Supreme Court Intemperate, arbitrary and injudicial conduct in sedition trials Acquitted 1805
1826 James H Peck District Judge Typrannous treatment of counsel and arbitrary conduct Acquitted 1831
1862 West H Humphreys District Judge Supporting the secession of Tennessee, organising armed rebellion against the USA, being a judge in the Confederate Government, failing to fulfill his duties) Convicted 1862
1867 Andrew Johnson President Attempted illegal removal of war secretary, inducement of a General to violate an act of Congress and contempt and reproach of Congress Acquitted 1868
35:19 a margin of 1 vote
1876 William Belknap Secretary of war Accepting profits from someone he appointed to an Army trading post Acquitted 1876
although he had already resigned
1903 Charles H Swayne District Judge Maliciously imprisonment, falsifying expense accounts, non-residence & use of private car belonging to a company in receivership Acquitted 1905
1912 Robert W Archbald Judge of Commerce Court Using official position for private gain Convicted 1913
1926 George English District Judge Using his office for monetary gain and judicial misconduct Resigned 1926
1932 Harold Louderback District Judge Using his position for personal gain (including favouritism in appointing receivers) Acquitted 1933
1936 Halstead L Ritter District Judge Bringing his court into disrepute (through bankruptcy irregularities & income tax evasion) Convicted 1936
(1974) Richard Nixon President Obstructing justice, abusing constitutional authority, and failing to obey subpoenas Resigned 1974
before being impeached
1986 Harry E Claiborne District Judge Filing a false tax return (had already been convicted in federal court) Convicted 1986
1988 Alcee L Hastings District Judge Perjury & bribery (although he was acquited by a jury on the charges) Impeached in 1988, and convicted by the Senate in 1989.
1988 Walter L Nixon District Judge Making false statements to a Grand Jury (investigating bribery allegations) Impeached & convicted by the Senate in 1989.
1998 William J Clinton President Perjury before a Federal Grand Jury & Obstruction of Justice (the other two charges, Perjury in Paula Jones case & Abuse of Power were not upheld) Impeached on 19th Dec 1998, but acquitted by Senate in 1999
2009 Samuel B Kent District Judge Sexual assault against two female court employees and making false statements. In May 2009 he was sentenced to a 33-month jail term for the latter charge. Impeached on 19th June 2009, but the Senate trial was formally dropped on 20th July following Kent's resignation.
2010 Thomas Porteous Federal Judge Four charges of corruption. He first failed to recuse himself in a case where he had "corrupt financial relationships" with attorneys. In addition he had demanded "gifts" from a bail bondsman, had lied during bankruptcy proceedings against him, and had lied about his corrupt activities during his nomination process. Impeached on 11th March, 2010, and convicted (and removed from office) by the Senate on 8th December, 2010.