Recounts two precedent-setting impeachment cases that strengthened the concept of separation of powers and further defined the institutions of American government
With Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist playing a front-and-center role as the presiding officer in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, it’s no wonder that his 1992 study of the two most important previous impeachments in United States history was brought back into print. But anyone looking for political commentary will probably be disappointed–Grand Inquests is a straightforward, and surprisingly readable, narrative account, top-heavy with historical details.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase was impeached in 1805 both for his political views and as a result of his demeanor as a judge. Rehnquist acknowledges that Chase was “impatient, overbearing, and arrogant,” but asserts that his behavior falls far short of the grounds for impeachment: high crimes and misdemeanors. He further argues that the acquittal of Chase helped safeguard the independence of the Supreme Court, preventing future Congresses from removing judges “whose views they considered to be unwise or out of keeping with the times.” The acquittal of President Andrew Johnson in his 1868 trial was a similar victory for the executive branch, permitting future chief executives to govern as they see fit … even if that runs counter to the desires of Congress.
Rehnquist makes it clear that he believes the impeachments of both Chase and Johnson were politically motivated, and that it was a good thing for the United States that neither was convicted. He says a relaxed standard of impeachment would have been like “a sword of Damocles, designed not to fall but to hang” over the head of future presidents who would fear removal from office if they did not go along with Congress. –Linda Killian
Specification: Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments Of Justice Samuel Chase And President Andrew Johnson
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