Is callous incompetence an impeachable offense?
mschor at suffolk.edu
Fri Sep 2 06:31:09 PDT 2005
I have little doubt that the framers made a mistake by opting for presidential rather than parliamentary goverment. The historical record of presidential systems in sustaining democracy over time is not particularly good. Once that initial design decision is made, however, polities that have more or less transformed their presidential systems into parliamentary ones by kicking out incompetent leaders before their term has expired have not faired well. The degree of political mobilization needed for this to occur is not particularly healthy as it erodes a number of institutional constraints on power. Guillermo O'Donnell's classic essay on delegative democracy in the journal of democracy is instructive on this score. Miguel
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On Fri, 02 Sep 2005 8:54:28 am EDT "James G. Wilson" wrote:
Imagine a President, no longer ideologically in tune with the times,
who enrages and alienates over eighty per cent of the American populace
due to numerous bad decisions, polarizing acts, an inappropriate affect,
and extraordinarily bad luck. To a large degree, he is the victim of the
tendency of humans to blame their leaders when things go wrong. His
political opponents, including many who had collaborated on numerous
occassions, seek to impeach this President. Many staunch supporters
abandon the President, now a "Symbol of Failure," because they fear the
next election results. The media goes into a predictable frenzy. Let
us also assume there has been no criminal behavior: no burglaries, no
perjury, no bribes. Nor have there been any personal moral failings,
such as using one's power to sexually exploit employees. Nevertheless,
Congress rushes through an impeachment of this beleagured President.
Was there an "impeachable offense?" Did the President somehow commit a
"High Misdemeanor?" Should such a failure of leadership ever be an
If you agree with my long-held belief that the substance of
impeachable offense, like the process, is a nonjusticiable political
question, then there seems little doubt that any Congressional
impeachment of a President, whatever the causes and motives, is final.
And Congress, like the Supreme Court, sometimes has the power to
interpret/twist the Text. Thus, the populace could conceivably put
enough pressure on Congress to make bungling an impeachable offense.
I am far more ambivalent about whether such acts warrant
impeachment. Our constitutional system has been remarkably stable in
large part because we have relied so much on the electoral process to
change political leadership. Yet there may be that rare moment when a
President totally loses the confidence of the Nation; he or she no
longer has the "mandate of Heaven." Also, the threat of impeachment is
one of the few things that prevents a President from being a virtual
emperor for four years. One of the obligations of lawyers and judges is
to overcome understandable hesitation and make a decision about a
particular issue. I am fairly certain I would have voted to impeach
President Johnson after the Civil War, so I am pretty sure I would go
after a President who does not seem to have committed any High Crimes
and Misdeameanors, but has led the country into numerous disasters.
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Associate Professor of Law
Suffolk University Law School
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