August 10, 2022

Harvard’s Laurence Tribe sets McConnell straight on constitutional impeachment process

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As a Harvard University professor of constitutional law, Laurence Tribe is well-versed in the intricacies of the impeachment process.


So as the House of Representatives and the Senate remain stalemated over the rules of the trial of Donald Trump while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds back the transmission of the articles of impeachment until it is assured that a fair trial with actual witnesses and cross-examination will be conducted, Professor Tribe has weighed in today with an op-ed at The Hill that dispels some of the misinformation about the impeachment process being bandied about by defenders of the president in their desperation to prevent his removal from office and deliver him an exoneration of wrongdoing in time for his 2020 reelection effort.

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Titled Ways Not To Think About The Impeachment Impasse, Tribe’s op-ed begins with a reminder.

“We should not confuse the Constitution for an abstruse “legal code” intended to be deciphered only by specially ordained experts. Its basic structures and provisions must be interpreted so as to “be understood by the public…” but should be “consistent with ‘the common affairs of the world,’” Tribe quotes one of the earliest and most respected Supreme Court Chief Justices, John Marshall as saying as far back as 1819.

Tribe uses that premise to launch into a detailed rebuttal of Republican claims that Donald Trump has not yet been impeached because Speaker Pelosi has not yet forwarded the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Analyzing both the Constitution itself and the internal rules and precedents of each chamber of Congress, the Harvard professor points out that:

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“Both chambers’ own rules — backed by the Impeachment and Rulemaking clauses of the Constitution, and coupled with common sense and ordinary usage — make two things absolutely clear: First, Donald Trump was impeached on Dec. 18, 2019, and second, the delay in initiating the president’s trial comes from the Senate’s standing rules, which require waiting for notice from the House before beginning.”

Tribe goes on to rebut the accusations being made by the right-wing against Speaker Pelosi and lays the blame for the current impasse squarely at the feet of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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“It is utter nonsense to accuse Speaker Pelosi of constitutional betrayal for using that delay to shine a public light on how the Senate plans to proceed, with Majority Leader McConnell saying he will not follow his oath to do ‘impartial justice.’ And instructing her that she loses political leverage by proceeding as she has takes real chutzpah when dealing with the most successful politician in modern congressional history,” Professor Tribe writes.

“Nothing that Speaker Pelosi is doing now is unconstitutional or difficult to understand. Indeed, it is Majority Leader McConnell who apparently intends to proceed in clear violation of the oath he will take when sitting in the impeachment trial — a constitutional oath prescribed in the 19th century and unchanged since. Those who expect Chief Justice John Roberts, when presiding over the Senate for that trial, to disqualify Sen. McConnell — or, for that matter, any Democratic senator who might have similarly betrayed a closed mind — are dreaming. No such event will occur. Nor will any court interfere with the Senate proceedings,” he continues.

For these reasons, Tribe concludes that Nancy Pelosi’s current strategy — “waiting cautiously while the Senate majority and minority leaders work to create a real trial — a trial with witnesses and documentary evidence — rather than a sham” — is perfectly justified.

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Professor Tribe is aware that many may consider his arguments to be a mere “tempest in an academic teapot,” with no real-world implications, so he explains the importance of his analysis in practical terms.

“Each side in today’s highly polarized politics can easily weaponize statements by the other for political gain. The White House already is considering adapting these arguments to claim the president hasn’t yet been impeached,” he points out.

Tribe concludes his op-ed with the admonition that “constitutional arguments are not only the province of law professors,” and a warning that “distorted interpretations” of the Constitution “risk misleading the public.”

“Our Constitution is part of American public life, and we must all strive to engage with it as faithfully as possible — all the more so when the stakes are as high as they are today,” Professor Tribe sums up his assessment of our current impasse.

With the high stakes constituting the survival of Democracy in America going forward, the resolution of the dispute between the two chambers of Congress to result in a fair trial with actual witnesses rather than a partisan show exoneration is crucial for the future of our nation.

Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.

Original article by Laurence Tribe at The Hill.

Vinnie Longobardo

is the Managing Editor of Washington Press and a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile, & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.

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