February 17, 2019

Don't Violate the Constitution to Safeguard It

“In the lengthy and thoughtful new cover story in The Atlantic magazine, senior editor Yoni Appelbaum has demanded that Congress immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump. He marshals a number of arguments in support of his thesis that President Trump has violated his oath of office, evinced little respect for the rule of law, and attacked the very foundations of our American constitutional democracy.

Appelbaum argues that these political sins demand the impeachment of President Trump regardless of whether or not he has committed any crimes. He suggests that the criteria for impeachment should be whether the “continued tenure” of President Trump poses a threat to the republic.

The fatal flaw in his thesis, a flaw that Appelbaum sometimes seems to note, is that the Framers explicitly rejected his proposed criteria for impeachment and demanded that the high constitutional threshold of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” be met. Appelbaum cites the Constitutional Convention during which an early draft included “treason, bribery, and corruption” but acknowledges that the final word was eliminated. He also acknowledges that the term “maladministration” was rejected as legal criteria for impeachment.

Yet, Appelbaum insists that the Constitution “as it was written” authorizes impeachment based on the subjective and expandable criteria that he proposes. He specifically wrote as his reasons for impeachment that today “the United States once more confronts a president who seems to care for only some of the people he represents, who promises his supporters that he can roll back the tide of diversity, who challenges the rule of law,” and finally, “who regards constitutional rights and liberties as disposable.””

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