Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Phillips and Yoo on Originalism and Impeachment

James Cleith Phillips, Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law, and John Yoo, University of California at Berkeley School of Law have posted Your Fired: The Original Meaning of Presidential Impeachment, which is forthcoming in the Southern California Law Review 94 (2021):

With just the third impeachment of a President in the nation’s history, questions about the Constitution’s original meaning of presidential impeachment are again salient. Unlike other constitutional provisions, the Impeachment Clause has generated neither much historical practice nor case law with regard to the removal of a President. The Supreme Court has deemed impeachment the ultimate political question. Thus, the original meaning takes on great weight. Further, previous scholarship has only either incidentally or in piecemeal fashion looked at the originalist evidence, and thus been akin to the tale of the blind men each feeling a different part of an elephant and consequently coming to wildly differing views as to what was before them.

This article systematically examines that original meaning in light of the Philadelphia Convention debates, the Federalist Papers (and Anti-Federalist responses), and the state ratifying conventions. This article is the first to both provide a corpus linguistic analysis of the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” and to publish findings from the Corpus of Early Modern English (COEME).

In short, the article finds that the original meaning of presidential impeachment was both narrower and broader than the criminal law. Not every crime was an impeachable offense, but not every impeachable offense was a crime. Further, the corpus analysis shows that the term the Founders adopted was not by accident but was an established legal term of art in Great Britain. The article then applies these findings to the impeachment of President Trump, provides an in-depth analysis of the proceeding in light of the Constitution’s original meaning, and critiques arguments made on both sides.
–Dan Ernst.  H/t: Legal Theory Blog