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An impeachment primer at the Weaverville Library

By Liz Kirchner

Woodfin – On Tuesday afternoon (Jan. 14), Nancy Pelosi sent articles of impeachment to the Senate, on Tuesday evening, the Friends of the Weaverville Library hosted a program to explain the process: its Constitutional context and occurrences in American history.

About a dozen people gathered in the community room of the library to hear the program presented by local scholar Dr. Walter Forehand.

The program, entitled ‘Impeachment: Who, What, How & Why,’ sought to clarify of process understanding of which has been hampered by partisan interpretation over two centuries since the Constitution was written “causing what was once clear to have become obscure” the announcement for the event said.

The flier emphasized that “This is emphatically not a partisan presentation” and the audience was cordial.

Gene Kiel, chair of Friends of the Weaverville Library, introduced Forehand, a classics professor who also practiced law for twenty-five years saying “This is not about spinning. This is not about partisan politics. This is about: ‘What are the facts?’ ‘What is the history?’ We’re going to look at it dispassionately,” Kiel said. He then lightening the tone of the meeting by dispelling rumors that Speaker Pelosi had waited to deliver the articles until Forehand was ready for his presentation.

Forehand further leavened the hour-long Power-point by first quoting country-singer, Jerry Reed, saying, “We’ve got a long way to go and short time to get there.”

Throughout the talk, he pointed out impeachment details murky to many Americans, noting that, compared to federal impeachment, other impeachments are not infrequent.

“It’s not as well-known, but every state except Oregon has an impeachment provision. You may remember Illinois impeached and removed its governor. You may also remember that our friends in West Virginia impeached its whole Supreme Court.”

The presentation examined the now well-examined Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution that reads “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.”

“Impeachment’s a lot broader than just the president,” Forehand said. It goes to all civil officers. In fact, most of the work we have done with impeachment has been done with federal judges, not with office holders.”
The talk clarified points including the definition “impeachment” and its historical context.

“Framers of the Constitution knew well what impeachment was. It’s not defined, but they knew what impeachment was since it came out of England in the 14th century fights between Parliament and the Crown,” said Forehand.

“The House of Commons gave itself the right to investigate the kings officers corruption, criminal, incompetence or laziness claims. The House of Commons could investigate and if they found grounds they bring charges.

That’s essentially what to impeachment means in a technical sense: to bring charges,” he said.

He cited a number of surprising details forgotten to most reminding the audience of the impeachment and execution of Charles I in 1649, that the colonies had used impeachment before the revolutionary war in 1774, and that impeachment is a frequently used tool and often used to reign in judges.

“Judges galore!” Forehand said clicking to an image of an, “Impeach Earl Warren” billboard harkening to segregationists’ outcry against Chief Justice of Supreme Court in the 1960s.

So far, there have been 60 serious attempts at impeachment voted on or serious investigations of impeachment. Sixty more against judges.

Impeachment is mostly brought against judges because that’s the only way to get rid of judges, who serve under life tenure.

“Impeachment has been used for all kinds of purposes, but only 20 times has the House of Representatives actually passed an article of impeachment,” he said and tallied them.

“Three presidents, one senator, one cabinet member, and 15 judges. There were only 14 senate trials, many resigned. Only eight have been convicted, four disqualified from holding office,” he said.

“We’re in the midst of an emotional situation here. But Impeachment and conviction is very rare.”

At the close, the audience asked questions.

“Given the stance of some of our senators, who have already decided. When they take that oath to judge impartially, can they recuse themselves?”
“You can leave, you can choose not to be a juror. You could as one of the representatives did, vote “Present”. I don’t think anybody is going to do that.”

The imp pro has been criticized. They said things happened behind closed doors. Was there anything that happened there that was not above-board and okay.

“I would say ‘no’,” he said, “but you know the old saying about laws and sausages.”

He pointed out that, Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers (number 65) recommends that impeachment be overseen by the judiciary, not the legislature.

In closing, Forehand said, “Practically every true democracy in the world has some way of removing an official before the next election. I think it’s fair to say that this is a political process. Whatever you think about the president. Whatever you think about what he did. The process is clearly political. Whether we ought to have that process, anyone can have a position on that.”

For more information about events at the Weaverville Library, visit www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/library/branch-locations/weaverville.aspx

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