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June 25, 2007

An Interesting Constitutional Wrinkle

Glenn Reynolds points out what I must say is an absolutely hilarious point of impeachment order:

Impeach Cheney if you want, but do bear in mind that he'll preside over his own impeachment trial.

Now, that's a constitutional crisis. And it does sort of make you yearn for the days when Vice-Presidents were, in fact, damn near totally useless.

Posted by john at June 25, 2007 08:25 PM

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CaptainBooshi | June 25, 2007 09:07 PM

Naturally, since he's declared himself the fourth branch of government, who else would have the authority?

Jeff Hentosz | June 25, 2007 09:09 PM

Hang on, now. Remember that he tasked himself with finding a VP candidate in 2000 and chose himself. He could be very effective in this role.

Christian | June 25, 2007 09:17 PM

Hmmm...that would be akin to Mr. Cheney looking into the bowl before he flushes (Freud had some amusing thoughts about that).

"Hey look look at what I produced!"

[presses chrome handle down]

micah | June 25, 2007 09:38 PM

What gets me is that the writers of the Constitution obviously realized that, in certain situations, having the Vice-President preside over impeachment trials would constitute a conflict of interest. Apparently they just failed to consider that this would occur when impeaching the Vice-President as well as when impeaching the President.

I half-expect that there's a legal memo somewhere in Cheney's office to the effect that, since no provision is made for having a reasonable person preside over the Vice-President's impeachment trial, the Founding Fathers clearly meant for the Vice-President to be unimpeachable.

CJ-in-Weld | June 25, 2007 09:58 PM

This may not be such a big deal, in one since – what did Rehnquist actually do when he presided over the last overly casual impeachment trial? That made a difference, I mean?

Steve Buchheit | June 25, 2007 10:41 PM

It does just get funnier and funnier.

hugh57 | June 25, 2007 10:48 PM

I may be wrong, but I thought that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presided over impeachment trials?

John Scalzi | June 25, 2007 10:49 PM


Only in the case when it's the President being impeached.

hugh57 | June 25, 2007 10:50 PM

Never mind. I should read the links before I comment.

Anonymous | June 25, 2007 10:51 PM

Micah, they didn't fail to recognize that. It is a situation that would hot have come up if the constitution was still being followed as it is supposed to be. Originally, the president and vice president did not run as as a team for one party. There were no parties. I think tat things would be far better today if there were still no parties. The main things political parties do is fight over their own power and forget about the welfare of the country or the people.

Keir | June 26, 2007 12:45 AM

There were no parties.

Yes, there were. Whigs and Tories?

Parties are a Good Thing. I'm not going to go over this, because Burke did it all much nicer.

Nentuaby | June 26, 2007 12:47 AM

Anonymous | June 25, 2007 10:51 PM:

That's certainly true that we'd be better off without them, but you're being a bit naive about the "original nonexistence" of parties. There have been parties in politics forever. They'd already formed in America by the election of our second president- probably would have formed in Washington's time if he wasn't so unanimously beloved. It's just an inevitable part of how humanity works.

An Eric | June 26, 2007 12:53 AM

Well, no, Micah is basically right: the Vice-President presides over the Senate and the Senate has sole authority to impeach the Vice-President. However, the VP has no vote unless there's a tie and an impeachment requires a 2/3 vote, so I'm not sure it makes all that much of a difference.

In cases where the President is impeached, as has been noted already, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial.

The VP was originally the guy who came in second in the presidential race, but that didn't necessarily say anything about which party he came from. George Washington and John Adams were both Federalists, for instance. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were both Democrat-Republicans after a tie-breaker vote by the House. It was only after the Jefferson-Burr runoff that the Twelfth Amendment effectively created presidential/vice-presidential tickets.

While the founders were generally hostile to the idea of political parties in theory, it didn't take very long for them to create them in practice. Saying there weren't any parties is a bit of an oversimplification: the founders (rivals Jefferson and Adams, specifically) quickly formed political alliances with like-minded individuals that in turn led to electoral political machines that evolved into parties by the beginning of the 19th century. While I tend to agree we might have been better off without political parties (in fact, that's part of the reason I've been registered as an independent since I was 18), it wasn't a viable system and we haven't had a non-party system since 1800.

An Eric | June 26, 2007 12:56 AM

Strike 1800: some quick internet refresher courses dates the first party system to 1792. And I should have given more credit for partisan politics to Alexander Hamilton. Anyway....

Chris Gerrib | June 26, 2007 09:28 AM

Related to our much beloved VP, the Washington Post is running this series on him.

Warning: This post may contain sarcasm.

John H | June 26, 2007 09:54 AM

I really don't see how he could do anything to stop his own impeachment, even as 'president' of the Senate. Perhaps that's why the framers didn't bother allowing for the Chief Justice to preside over a VP impeachment...

Naomi | June 26, 2007 12:07 PM

Were Spiro Agnew alive, he'd probably be kicking himself for not having thought of that particular wrinkle.

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