By Beverly George
Article 2 – The Executive Branch, Section 4 – Disqualification
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.
On November 17, 2019, ACE members dug deep into the topic of impeachment with Professor Michael Seng from the John Marshall Law School at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
After graduating from The University of Notre Dame Law School, Seng clerked for a U.S. District Court Judge, was in private practice for a few years, and served as a Legal Aid attorney before going into academic law. At The John Marshall Law School, Seng co-founded the John Marshall Fair Housing and Support Center in 1991 and founded John Marshall’s Fair Housing Legal Clinic in 1992.
Beginning in 1993, he organized delegations of lawyers and judges to create a legal exchange that allowed the Czech and Slovak Republics to bring American lawyers to Europe to assist the bar as both countries rebuilt their legal systems after the fall of Communism. The program eventually became the Czech/Slovak Legal Institute and produced a cadre of lawyers and judges who are distinguishing themselves in private practice, in the courts, and in other positions of trust throughout the Czech Republic.
Seng began the impeachment discussion with covering the topic from its origin in English Common Law, which was a useful and familiar reference tool to our founders in writing the Constitution in 1787. Seng parsed the phrase “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” as written then and how it has evolved in meaning through two (almost three) impeachments of U.S. presidents.
The professor also discussed the impeachments of Andrew Johnson, Richard Milhous Nixon, and William Jefferson Clinton and reviewed their respective cases as brought forth by Congress, as well as the public reaction and support for impeachment in the cases of Nixon and Clinton.
Seng’s presentation was in the style of an intimate classroom discussion. He answered questions from the audience as they came up. Seng noted President Trump’s potential impeachment has already seen a number of unusual circumstances.
The Constitution offers very general directions on the impeachment process. When the House draws up the Articles of Impeachment and then votes to impeach Trump, the next step is to hold a trial in the Senate, which would be presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Whether the Senate will do this in a timely, transparent, and effective manner, will depend entirely on Senator Mitch McConnell.
Seng was asked what circumstances would present a genuine constitutional crisis to our democracy to which he replied that the outcome of this impeachment or of the 2020 election could present the country with just that. Any of the following scenarios could constitute a constitutional crisis: if Senator McConnell refuses to hold the trial in the Senate; if he drags his feet, and the Senate trial extends beyond November 3, 2020; or if Trump is found guilty in the Senate but refuses to recognize his removal.
We watch, wait, and study history, constitutional procedures, and consider the current facts presented in the testimony to Congress. History is being written right now.
ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.