President Obama’s rumored blitz of executive orders aimed at curbing gun violence has raised the specter of impeachment proceedings against the president. Former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, speaking to Fox News on Tuesday, said that impeachment would not be out of the question for Obama if he decides to act unilaterally.
“If he tried to override the Second Amendment in any way, I believe it would be an impeachable offense.”
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) stated Tuesday, Jan. 15 he would file Articles of Impeachment against the president in the event any executive orders are issued restricting gun sales or ownership. Contrary to popular belief, impeachment does not equal removal from office. The U.S. Constitution establishes the framework for impeachment and removal of any President, beginning with the threshold necessary to begin the process:
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” – United States Constitution, Article II, Section 4.
After that, it gets a bit murky. While serving as a Michigan Congressman in 1970, Gerald Ford defined “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” as “"whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history." This particular quote would prove prophetic when the 1972 Watergate scandal led to Richard Nixon’s resignation when he learned that the commencement of impeachment proceedings was imminent. Clinton learned this lesson in 1998, following accusations he lied under oath during questioning by Special Prosecutor Ken Starr surrounding his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
In fact, only two presidents have actually had Articles of Impeachment passed against them, Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998). Both were acquitted in their Senate trial. Clinton was found not guilty of his offenses by a wide margin, while Johnson’s acquittal was by a single vote. Interestingly, both presidents were Democrats and, in both cases, impeachment proceedings were initiated by a Republican-controlled House in a highly-polarized political environment.
Though the constitution’s enumeration of impeachment powers is specific – the House indicts, the Senate acquits or convicts – there are those who believe they can effect a popular movement to force the issue. One such citizen, radio host Alex Jones’, posted a “Citizens’ Petition” on his website Jan. 15, which he and supporters hope will motivate impeachment. The rumored 19 executive orders are included in a list of 11 allegations made by Jones.
“He has ignored Congressional rejection of the cybersecurity bill and instead indicated he will pursue an unconstitutional executive order.” – Citizens File Articles of Impeachment Against Obama, Alex Jones, Jan. 15, 2013.
Unfortunately for Jones and his supporters, the petition carries almost no actual power beyond sending a political message. Short of a major bombshell revelation, any impeachment proceeding would likely be viewed by most Americans as an exercise in both political bitterness by Republicans, and paranoia by conspiracy theorists.