Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official. Impeachment does not in itself remove the official definitively from office; it is similar to an indictment in criminal law, and thus it is essentially the statement of charges against the official. Whereas in some countries the individual is provisionally removed, in others they can remain in office during the trial. Once impeached, an individual must then face the possibility of conviction on the charges by a legislative vote, and a judgment which convicts the official on the articles of impeachment entails the official's definitive removal from office.
Because impeachment and conviction of officials involve an overturning of the normal constitutional procedures by which individuals achieve high office (election, ratification, or appointment) and because it generally requires a supermajority, they are usually reserved for those deemed to have committed serious abuses of their office. In the United States, for example, impeachment at the federal level is limited to those who may have committed "Treason, Bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors".
Impeachment exists under constitutional law in many countries around the world, including Brazil, France, India, Ireland, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.
Etymology and history
The word "impeachment" likely derives from Old French empeechier from Latin word impedīre expressing the idea of catching or ensnaring by the 'foot' (pes, pedis), and has analogues in the modern French verb empêcher (to prevent) and the modern English impede. Medieval popular etymology also associated it (wrongly) with derivations from the Latin impetere (to attack). Some contend that the word comes from the Latin impicare (through the late-Latin impiciare, impiciamentum), that is the punishment that in Latin antiquity they gave to parricides, consisting in throwing them into the sea confined in a culleus, namely a sac made of esparto or hide and covered with pitch or bitumen on the outside, so that the water delayed in entering; they sometimes confined some aggressive beasts with the convict so to increase his last torments ("Culleus, tunica ex sparto im modum crumenae facta, quae liniebatur a populo pice et bitumine, in qua imcludebantur parricidae cum simia, serpente, et gallo; insuta mittebatur in mare et, contendentibus inter se animantibus, homo maioribus poenis afficiebatur").
The process was first used by the English "Good Parliament" against Baron Latimer in the second half of the 14th century. Following the British example, the constitutions of Virginia (1776), Massachusetts (1780) and other states thereafter adopted the impeachment mechanism, but they restricted the punishment to removal of the official from office.
In various jurisdictions
The Austrian Federal president can be impeached by the Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung) before the Constitutional Court. The constitution also provides for the recall of the president by a referendum. Neither of these courses has ever been taken. This is likely because while Austrian presidents are vested with considerable powers on paper, they act as a largely ceremonial figurehead in practice, and are thus unlikely to abuse their powers.
The president of the Federative Republic of Brazil may be impeached by the Chamber of Deputies and tried and removed from office by the Federal Senate. The Brazilian Constitution requires that two-thirds of the Deputies vote in favor of the impeachment of the President and two-thirds of the Senators vote for conviction in the subsequent trial for removal from office. State governors and municipal mayors can also be impeached, tried and removed by the respective legislative bodies. Upon conviction, the officeholder has their political rights revoked for eight years—which bars them from running for any office during that time.
Fernando Collor de Mello, the 32nd President of Brazil, resigned in 1992 amidst impeachment proceedings. Despite his resignation, the Senate nonetheless voted to convict him and bar him from holding any office for eight years, due to evidence of bribery and misappropriation.
In 2016, the Chamber of Deputies initiated an impeachment case against President Dilma Rousseff on allegations of budgetary mismanagement. Following her impeachment by the Chamber of Deputies and her conviction by trial in the Senate, she was definitively replaced by Vice President Michel Temer, who had served as acting president while Rousseff's case was pending in the Senate.
The president of Bulgaria can be removed only for high treason or violation of the constitution. The process is started by a two-thirds majority vote of the Parliament to impeach the president, whereupon the Constitutional Court decides whether the President is guilty of the crime of which he is charged. If he is found guilty, he is removed from power. No Bulgarian President has ever been impeached. The same procedure can be used to remove the vice president of Bulgaria, which has also never happened.
The process of impeaching the president of Croatia can be initiated by a two-thirds majority vote in favor in the Sabor and is thereafter referred to the Constitutional Court, which must accept such a proposal with a two-thirds majority vote in favor in order for the president to be removed from office. This has never occurred in the history of the Republic of Croatia. In case of a successful impeachment motion a president's constitutional term of five years would be terminated and an election called within 60 days of the vacancy occurring. During the period of vacancy the presidential powers and duties would be carried out by the speaker of the Croatian Parliament in his/her capacity as Acting President of the Republic.
In 2013, the constitution was changed. Since 2013, the process can be started by at least three-fifths of present senators, and must be approved by at least three-fifths of all members of Parliament. Also, the President can be impeached for high treason (newly defined in the Constitution) or any serious infringement of the Constitution.
The process starts in the Senate of the Czech Republic which has the right to only impeach the president, and the Senate passes the case to the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, which has to decide the verdict against the president. If the Court finds the President guilty, then the President is removed from office and is permanently barred from being elected President of the Czech Republic again.
No Czech president has ever been impeached, though members of the Senate sought to impeach President Vaclav Klaus in 2013. This case was dismissed by the court, which reasoned that his mandate had expired.
In France the comparable procedure is called destitution. The president of France can be impeached by the French Parliament for willfully violating the Constitution or the national laws. The process of impeachment is written in the 68th article of the French Constitution. A group of senators or a group of members of the National Assembly can begin the process. Then, both the French National Assembly and the French Senate have to acknowledge the impeachment. After the upper and lower houses' agreement, they unite to form the High Court. Finally, the High Court must decide to declare the impeachment of the president of France—or not.
The federal president of Germany can be impeached both by the Bundestag and by the Bundesrat for willfully violating federal law. Once the Bundestag or the Bundesrat impeaches the president, the Federal Constitutional Court decides whether the President is guilty as charged and, if this is the case, whether to remove him or her from office. The Federal Constitutional Court also has the power to remove federal judges from office for willfully violating core principles of the federal constitution or a state constitution. The impeachment procedure is regulated in Article 61 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany.
There is no formal impeachment process for the chancellor of Germany, however the Bundestag can replace the chancellor at any time by voting for a new chancellor (constructive vote of no confidence, Article 67 of the Basic Law).
There has never been an impeachment against the President so far. Constructive votes of no confidence against the chancellor occurred in 1972 and 1982, with only the second one being successful.
The chief executive of Hong Kong can be impeached by the Legislative Council. A motion for investigation, initiated jointly by at least one-fourth of all the legislators charging the Chief Executive with "serious breach of law or dereliction of duty" and refusing to resign, shall first be passed by the Council. An independent investigation committee, chaired by the chief justice of the Court of Final Appeal, will then carry out the investigation and report back to the Council. If the Council find the evidence sufficient to substantiate the charges, it may pass a motion of impeachment by a two-thirds majority.:Article 73(9)
However, the Legislative Council does not have the power to actually remove the chief executive from office, as the chief executive is appointed by the Central People's Government (State Council of China). The Council can only report the result to the Central People's Government for its decision.:Article 45
Article 13 of Hungary's Fundamental Law (constitution) provides for the process of impeaching and removing the president. The president enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution while in office, but may be charged with crimes committed during his term afterwards. Should the president violate the constitution while discharging his duties or commit a willful criminal offense, he may be removed from office. Removal proceedings may be proposed by the concurring recommendation of one-fifth of the 199 members of the country's unicameral Parliament. Parliament votes on the proposal by secret ballot, and if two thirds of all representatives agree, the president is impeached. Once impeached, the president's powers are suspended, and the Constitutional Court decides whether or not the President should be removed from office.
The Constitution of Iceland does not provide a process to impeach the president of Iceland. The president can be removed from office by a three-fourths majority in Parliament and a subsequent majority in a referendum. Cabinet ministers can be impeached by Parliament and their cases are adjudicated by the National Court. Since cabinet ministers can be relieved of duty only by the president, a guilty verdict can result in only a fine or imprisonment.
The president and judges, including the chief justice of the supreme court and high courts, can be impeached by the parliament before the expiry of the term for violation of the Constitution. Other than impeachment, no other penalty can be given to a president in position for the violation of the Constitution under Article 361 of the constitution. However a president after his/her term/removal can be punished for his already proven unlawful activity under disrespecting the constitution, etc. No president has faced impeachment proceedings. Hence, the provisions for impeachment have never been tested. The sitting president cannot be charged and needs to step down in order for that to happen.
The president of Iran can be impeached jointly by the members of the Assembly (Majlis) and the supreme leader. A new presidential election is then triggered. Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran's first president, was impeached in June 1981 and removed from the office. Mohammad-Ali Rajai was elected as the new president.
Cabinet ministers can be impeached by the members of the Assembly. Presidential appointment of a new minister is subject to a parliamentary vote of confidence. Impeachment of ministers has been a fairly commonly used tactic in the power struggle between the president and the assembly during the last several governments.
In the Republic of Ireland formal impeachment applies only to the Irish president. Article 12 of the Irish Constitution provides that, unless judged to be "permanently incapacitated" by the Supreme Court, the president can be removed from office only by the houses of the Oireachtas (parliament) and only for the commission of "stated misbehaviour". Either house of the Oireachtas may impeach the president, but only by a resolution approved by a majority of at least two thirds of its total number of members; and a house may not consider a proposal for impeachment unless requested to do so by at least thirty of its number.
Where one house impeaches the president, the remaining house either investigates the charge or commissions another body or committee to do so. The investigating house can remove the president if it decides, by at least a two-thirds majority of its members, both that the president is guilty of the charge and that the charge is sufficiently serious as to warrant the president's removal. To date no impeachment of an Irish president has ever taken place. The president holds a largely ceremonial office, the dignity of which is considered important, so it is likely that a president would resign from office long before undergoing formal conviction or impeachment.
In Italy, according to Article 90 of the Constitution, the president of the Republic can be impeached through a majority vote of the Parliament in joint session for high treason and for attempting to overthrow the Constitution. If impeached, the president of the Republic is then tried by the Constitutional Court integrated with sixteen citizens older than forty chosen by lot from a list compiled by the Parliament every nine years.
Italian press and political forces made use of the term "impeachment" for the attempt by some members of parliamentary opposition to initiate the procedure provided for in Article 90 against Presidents Francesco Cossiga (1991),[better source needed] Giorgio Napolitano (2014)[better source needed] and Sergio Mattarella (2018).[better source needed]
Members of the Liechtenstein Government can be impeached before the State Court for breaches of the Constitution or of other laws.:Article 62 As a hereditary monarchy the Sovereign Prince can not be impeached as he "is not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts and does not have legal responsibility".:Article 7 The same is true of any member of the Princely House who exercises the function of head of state should the Prince be temporarily prevented or in preparation for the Succession.:Article 7
In the Republic of Lithuania, the president may be impeached by a three-fifths majority in the Seimas. President Rolandas Paksas was removed from office by impeachment on 6 April 2004 after the Constitutional Court of Lithuania found him guilty of having violated his oath and the constitution. He was the first European head of state to have been impeached.
Members of government, representatives of the national assembly (Stortinget) and Supreme Court judges can be impeached for criminal offenses tied to their duties and committed in office, according to the Constitution of 1814, §§ 86 and 87. The procedural rules were modeled after the U.S. rules and are quite similar to them. Impeachment has been used eight times since 1814, last in 1927. Many argue that impeachment has fallen into desuetude. In cases of impeachment, an appointed court (Riksrett) takes effect.
The country's ruling coalition said on 7 August 2008, that it would seek the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, alleging the U.S.-backed former general had "eroded the trust of the nation" and increasing pressure on him to resign. He resigned on 18 August 2008. Another kind of impeachment in Pakistan is known as the vote of less-confidence or vote of mis-understanding and has been practiced by provincial assemblies to weaken the national assembly.
Impeaching a president requires a two-thirds majority support of lawmakers in a joint session of both houses of Parliament.
Impeachment in the Philippines follows procedures similar to the United States. Under Sections 2 and 3, Article XI, Constitution of the Philippines, the House of Representatives of the Philippines has the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment against the president, vice president, members of the Supreme Court, members of the Constitutional Commissions (Commission on Elections, Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Audit), and the ombudsman. When a third of its membership has endorsed the impeachment articles, it is then transmitted to the Senate of the Philippines which tries and decide, as impeachment tribunal, the impeachment case.
A main difference from U.S. proceedings however is that only one third of House members are required to approve the motion to impeach the president (as opposed to a simple majority of those present and voting in their U.S. counterpart). In the Senate, selected members of the House of Representatives act as the prosecutors and the senators act as judges with the Senate president presiding over the proceedings (the chief justice jointly presides with the Senate president if the president is on trial). Like the United States, to convict the official in question requires that a minimum of two thirds (i.e. 16 of 24 members) of all the members of the Senate vote in favor of conviction. If an impeachment attempt is unsuccessful or the official is acquitted, no new cases can be filed against that impeachable official for at least one full year.
Impeachable offenses and officials
The 1987 Philippine Constitution says the grounds for impeachment include culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, and betrayal of public trust. These offenses are considered "high crimes and misdemeanors" under the Philippine Constitution.
The president, vice president, Supreme Court justices, and members of the Constitutional Commission and ombudsman are all considered impeachable officials under the Constitution.
Impeachment proceedings and attempts
President Joseph Estrada was the first official impeached by the House in 2000, but the trial ended prematurely due to outrage over a vote to open an envelope where that motion was narrowly defeated by his allies. Estrada was deposed days later during the 2001 EDSA Revolution.
In 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, impeachment complaints were filed against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but none of the cases reached the required endorsement of 1⁄3 of the members for transmittal to, and trial by, the Senate.
In March 2011, the House of Representatives impeached Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, becoming the second person to be impeached. In April, Gutierrez resigned prior to the Senate's convening as an impeachment court.
In December 2011, in what was described as "blitzkrieg fashion", 188 of the 285 members of the House of Representatives voted to transmit the 56-page Articles of Impeachment against Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona.
To date, three officials had been successfully impeached by the House of Representatives, and two were not convicted. The latter, Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, was convicted on 29 May 2012, by the Senate under Article II of the Articles of Impeachment (for betraying public trust), with 20–3 votes from the Senator Judges.
In Polish law there is no impeachment procedure defined, as it is present in the other countries. Infringements of the law can be investigated only by special Parliament's Committee or (if accusations involve people holding the highest offices of state) by the State Tribunal. The State Tribunal is empowered to rule for the removal of individuals from public office but it is not a common practice.
The president can be impeached by Parliament and is then suspended. A referendum then follows to determine whether the suspended President should be removed from office. President Traian Băsescu was impeached twice by the Parliament: in 2007 and more recently in July 2012. A referendum was held on 19 May 2007 and a large majority of the electorate voted against removing the president from office. For the most recent suspension a referendum was held on July 29, 2012; the results were heavily against the president, but the referendum was invalidated due to low turnout.[circular reference]
The president of Russia can be impeached if both the State Duma (which initiates the impeachment process through the formation of a special investigation committee) and the Federation Council of Russia vote by a two-thirds majority in favor of impeachment and, additionally, the Supreme Court finds the president guilty of treason or a similarly heavy crime against the nation and the Constitutional Court confirms that the constitutional procedure of the impeachment process was correctly observed.
In 1993, during the Russian constitutional crisis, the Supreme Soviet formally impeached then-President Boris Yeltsin, who previously dissolved the parliament by his decree. Yeltsin and most of his ministers ignored the vote. After several days of violence, leaders of the Supreme Soviet surrendered and were arrested, and their decisions were annulled by Yeltsin.
In 1995–1999, the Duma made several attempts to impeach Yeltsin, but they never had a sufficient number of votes for the process to reach the Federation Council.
The Constitution of Singapore allows the impeachment of a sitting president on charges of treason, violation of the Constitution, corruption, or attempting to mislead the Presidential Elections Committee for the purpose of demonstrating eligibility to be elected as President. The prime minister or at least one-quarter of all members of Parliament (MPs) can pass an impeachment motion, which can succeed only if at least half of all MPs (excluding nominated members) vote in favor, whereupon the chief justice of the Supreme Court will appoint a tribunal to investigate allegations against the president. If the tribunal finds the president guilty, or otherwise declares that the president is "permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office by reason of mental or physical infirmity", Parliament will hold a vote on a resolution to remove the president from office, which requires a three-quarters majority to succeed. No president has ever been removed from office in this fashion.
South Korea (Republic of Korea)
According to the Article 65 Clause 1 of Constitution of South Korea, if President, Prime Minister, or other state council members including Supreme Court and Constitutional court members, violate the Constitution or other laws of official duty, the National Assembly can impeach them. Clause 2 states the impeachment bill may be proposed by one third or more of the total members of the National Assembly, and shall require majority voting and approved by two thirds or more of the total members of the National Assembly. This article also states that any person against whom a motion for impeachment has been passed shall be suspended from exercising his power until the impeachment has been adjudicated and shall not extend further than removal from public office. Provided, that it shall not exempt the person impeached from civil or criminal liability.
Two presidents have been impeached since the foundation of the Sixth Republic of Korea and adoption of the new Constitution of South Korea in 1987. Roh Moo-hyun in 2004 was impeached by the National Assembly but was overturned by the Constitutional Court. Park Geun-hye in 2016 was impeached by the National Assembly, and the impeachment was confirmed by the Constitutional Court on March 10, 2017.
In Taiwan, according to the Additional Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China, impeachment of the president or the vice president by the Legislative Yuan shall be initiated upon the proposal of more than one-half of the total members of the Legislative Yuan and passed by more than two-thirds of the total members of the Legislative Yuan, whereupon it shall be presented to the grand justices of the Judicial Yuan for adjudication.
In Turkey, according to the Constitution, the Grand National Assembly may initiate an investigation of the president, the vice president or any member of the Cabinet upon the proposal of simple majority of its total members, and within a period less than a month, the approval of three-fifths of the total members. The investigation would be carried out by a commission of fifteen members of the Assembly, each nominated by the political parties in proportion to their representation therein. The Commission would submit its report indicating the outcome of the investigation to the speaker within two months. If the investigation is not completed within this period, the Commission's time may be renewed for another month. Within ten days of its submission to the speaker, the report would be distributed to all members of the Assembly, and ten days after its distribution, the report would be discussed on the floor. Upon the approval of two thirds of the total number of the Assembly by secret vote, the person or persons, about whom the investigation was conducted, may be tried before the Constitutional Court. The trial would be finalized within three months, and if not, a one-time additional period of three months shall be granted. The president, about whom an investigation has been initiated, may not call for an election. The president, who is convicted by the Court, would be removed from office.
The provision of this article shall also apply to the offenses for which the president allegedly worked during his term of office.
During the crisis which started in November 2013, the increasing political stress of the face-down between the protestors occupying Independence Square in Kiev and the State Security forces under the control of President Yanukovych led to deadly armed force being used on the protestors. Following the negotiated return of Kiev's City Hall on 16 February 2014, occupied by the protesters since November 2013, the security forces thought they could also retake "Maidan", Independence Square. The ensuing fighting from 17 through 21 February 2014 resulted in a considerable number of deaths and a more generalised alienation of the population, and the withdrawal of President Yanukovych to his support area in the East of Ukraine.
In the wake of the president's departure, Parliament convened on 22 February; it reinstated the 2004 Constitution, which reduced presidential authority, and voted impeachment of President Yanukovych as de facto recognition of his departure from office as President of an integrated Ukraine. The president riposted that Parliament's acts were illegal as they could pass into law only by presidential signature.
In the United Kingdom, in principle anybody may be prosecuted and tried by the two Houses of Parliament for any crime. The first recorded impeachment is that of William Latimer, 4th Baron Latimer during the Good Parliament of 1376. The last was that of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville in 1806. Over the centuries, the procedure has been supplemented by other forms of oversight including select committees, confidence motions, and judicial review, while the privilege of peers to trial only in the House of Lords was abolished in 1948, and thus impeachment, which has not kept up with modern norms of democracy or procedural fairness, is generally considered obsolete.
Article One of the United States Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power of impeachment and the Senate the sole power to try impeachments of officers of the U.S. federal government. (Various state constitutions include similar measures, allowing the state legislature to impeach the governor or other officials of the state government.) In the United States, impeachment is only the first of two stages, and conviction during the second stage requires "the concurrence of two thirds of the members present". Impeachment does not necessarily result in removal from office; it is only a legal statement of charges, parallel to an indictment in criminal law. An official who is impeached faces a second legislative vote (whether by the same body or another), which determines conviction, or failure to convict, on the charges embodied by the impeachment. Most constitutions require a supermajority to convict. Even if the subject of the charge is criminal action, it does not constitute a criminal trial; the only question under consideration is the removal of the individual from office, and the possibilities of a subsequent vote preventing the removed official from ever again holding political office in the jurisdiction where they were removed.
The article on Impeachment in the United States discusses the following topics:
- Impeachable offenses: High Crimes and Misdemeanors
- Officers subject to impeachment
- Federal impeachment investigations formally commenced and officials impeached
- The House of Representatives has initiated impeachment proceedings only 64 times since 1789; only 19 of these proceedings actually resulted in the House's passing Articles of Impeachment, and of those only eight resulted in removal from office (all federal judges).
Three United States presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump in 2019. All three were acquitted and not removed from office by the Senate. Clinton's trial in the Senate began on 7 January 1999 and ended on February 12, 1999. Trump's trial in the Senate began on 16 January 2020 and ended on February 5, 2020. An impeachment process was also commenced against Richard Nixon, but he resigned in 1974 to avoid likely impeachment.
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