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Explaining the Impeachment Process (Jay Gragnani)

When we hear conversations about impeachment, we may think it is a quick process: a ready tool for the savvy politician. Someone declares an impeachment investigation, and if the party is found guilty, they are successfully impeached. But the actual system is not that simple.

Typically the first step is declaring an impeachment inquiry. An inquiry is not required, but it allows for an investigation to take place on the questioned individual or individuals.

The investigation period is simply when federal agencies, such as the Department of Justice, are involved in collecting evidence to create a case. Similar to a legal trial, there needs to be an effective and convincing argument against the party.

This process, especially recently, is often conflated with a full impeachment. For example, when Representative Lauren Boebert introduced articles of impeachment against President Biden in July of this year, many misinterpreted her as initiating a formal impeachment process. President Biden was not impeached or punished. Rather, Representative Boebert brought the case forward to Congress.

Articles of Impeachment are the physical items and documents that officiate an impeachment. Drafting these articles is difficult, as described above, due to the need for substantial, definitive evidence.

Once the articles are fully drafted, they must be voted on by the House of Representatives. In order to adopt the articles, a simple majority is required, meaning 218 of the 435 Representatives must vote in favor. If Congress reaches this majority, the articles are passed and the individual is officially impeached.

It is important to note that impeachment does not have any consequences other than political condemnation. No punishment occurs until the Senate trial. At this point, the role of the House of Representatives is complete.

Once articles are voted forward, the Senate conducts a trial, just as a defendant is brought into the courtroom in our legal system. The U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice (in our current system, John Roberts) presides over the trial.

The trial is fairly intuitive, with testimony, physical evidence, arguments and speeches. At the end of this trial, the Senate conducts a vote: whether or not the party is deemed guilty. Unlike the House, the Senate vote requires a two-thirds majority, so 67 out of 100 Senators. If that majority is reached, the verdict is declared.

Since 1799, the Senate has conducted 21 trials, with 8 resulting in a guilty decision. Out of the four Presidential trials however (Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1999, and Donald Trump in 2020 and 2021), all four have been found not guilty. The vast majority of trials and guilty declarants are for judges.

If someone is convicted, they lose the ability to hold office, not just in their current term, but for the rest of their life. Criminal charges may follow if necessary. This ruling sends a message that politicians cannot break the law or conduct themselves in a manner contrary to government decorum without repercussions.

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