Impeachment: A Check on Presidents Swollen with Power
Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-TX) gave the following speech, excerpted here, to the House Judiciary Committee on July 25, 1974, during the hearings on the impeachment of Richard Nixon.
Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, "We, the people."It is a very eloquent beginning. But when the document was completed on the seventeenth of September 1787 I was not included in that "We, the people."But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision I have finally been included in "We, the people."
My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.
It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution, for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office.
The Constitution doesn't say that. The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of this body, the legislature, against and upon the encroachment of the Executive. In establishing the division between the two branches of the legislature, the House and the Senate, assigning to the one the right to accuse and to the other the right to judge, the framers of this Constitution were very astute. They did not make the accusers and the judges the same person.
We know the nature of impeachment. We have been talking about it awhile now. It is chiefly designed for the President and his (sic) high ministers to somehow be called into account. It is designed to "bridle"the Executive if he engages in excesses. It is designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men. The framers confined in the Congress the power, if need be, to remove the President in order to strike a delicate balance between a President swollen with power and grown tyrannical and preservation of the independence of the Executive. The nature of impeachment is a narrowly channeled exception to the separation of powers maxim; the federal convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors and discounted and opposed the term, "maladministration."
"It is to be used only for great misdemeanors,"so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: "We need one branch to check the others."The North Carolina ratification convention: "No one need to be afraid that officers who commit oppression will pass with immunity."The South Carolina ratification convention impeachment criteria: Those are impeachable "who behave amiss or betray their public trust…."James Madison, again at the constitutional convention: "A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution…."
If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here [in the brief describing Nixon's myriad crimes], then perhaps that eighteenth century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth century paper shredder.