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The Duties Of Congress

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

In yesterday's post, I expressed my frustration of having to fork over even more of my money to the federal government because they claim I owe it in taxes. I explained that most of my frustration stems from the fact that I know the Bush administration has repeatedly violated our laws and the Congress has done very little to correct this. To make matters worse, Bush even acknowledged this violation and said he would not stop because he felt, as Commander in Chief, he was somehow above the law. As I've pointed out in the past, has a great collection of papers discussing the President's illegal spying program. In addition, the American Bar Association has released a report (.pdf) that explains in detail the violations by this administration. It's gotten so bad that one is left with the impression this administration is saying to all of America, "We dare you to make us stop!"
Congress, being eternally spineless, couldn't even muster enough support to censure the President. Given the opportunity to at least express their dissatisfaction with the President's flagrant disregard for the rule of law, they wouldn't even vote for a symbolic hand-slapping. They're a bunch of cowards! So, what is the Congress suppose to do when it suspects that the President, or members of his administration has broken the law? I asked the same question. Poking around the World Wide Web, I happened upon a page hosted by the United States Senate website that had the text of our Constitution and a brief explanation of the individual sections. With a couple of keystrokes and some formatting, I copied the parts relevant to our discussion. Below, on the left is the original text; on the right is the explanation for that section. For the sake of clarity, I've emphasized those specific words and/or sentences.
Original Text of The Constitution of the United States
The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Representatives choose their presiding officer, the Speaker, from among the membership of the majority party.  Other elected officers, such as the chaplain, clerk of the House, sergeant at arms, and doorkeeper, are not members of the House.  Impeachment is the power to remove federal officers.  The House initiates the process by voting to impeach, which then refers the matter to the Senate for a trial.
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Once the House votes to impeach, the Senate conducts a trial to determine whether to convict or acquit.  A two-thirds vote is necessary to remove the individual from office.  The chief justice of the United States presides over the impeachment trial of a president.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
Convicted persons can be barred from holding future office, and may be subject to criminal trial in the courts.
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
As Commander in Chief, the president controls the military forces. Presidents have also cited this power as extending to their control of national and foreign policy in war and peacetime. Congress may not restrain the president's power to pardon, except in impeachment cases.
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 is the ultimate power of Congress to deter and to punish abuse of power by officers of the executive and judicial branches. Federal judges constitute the greater number of impeached and convicted officers. President Andrew Johnson won acquittal by a single vote, and President Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached.  President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate.
The House of Representatives is empower to initiate impeachment proceedings by voting to send the matter to the Senate. The Senate then tries the impeachment much the same as a criminal court of law would be conducted. Also, if the President is on trial, the Chief Justice is required to preside over the proceedings. The Senate, on conclusion of it's trial, will either vote to convict or acquit the accused. If the person is found guilty, they are removed from office, possibly barred from holding public office in the future, and may be subject to criminal trial in the courts.
"But, what are impeachable offenses?" you ask. Let's look to a website that has answered this question for us: They have a whole page that's dedicated to answering this one question. I'll reprint the most important parts here:
The basis for impeachment comes from the US Constitution. Article II, Sec. 4 states that:
"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."

The crimes of Treason and Bribery are fairly straightforward. But what are "high Crimes and Misdemeanors"? The framers of the Constitution deliberately borrowed this phrase from English parliamentary law. It was first used in 1386 to impeach the King's Chancellor. Michael de le Pole, Earl of Suffolk. He broke a promise to parliament regarding improvements in the King's Estate and also failed to pay ransom money for the town of Ghent.

In the midst of Watergate, the Judiciary wrote a report on impeachment. They stated:

'Two points emerge from the 400 years of English parliamentary experience with the phrase "high Crimes and Misdemeanors." First the particular allegations of misconduct alleged damage to the state in such forms as misapplication of funds, abuse of official power, neglect of duty, encroachment on Parliament's prerogatives, corruption, and betrayal of trust. Second, the phrase "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" was confined to parliamentary impeachments; it had no roots in the ordinary criminal law, and the particular allegations of misconduct under that heading were not necessarily limited to common law or statutory derelictions or crimes.'

The subject of impeachment was debated by the Founding Fathers during the Constitutional conventions. The Federalist Papers give rationale for many parts of the Constitution and are often used to interpret the intent of the framers.

In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton described the subject of impeachment as:

"those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself"

James Iredell at the North Carolina Constitutional convention, argued that the President:

"Must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate. He is to regulate all intercourse with foreign powers, and it is his duty to impart to the Senate every material intelligence he receives. If it should appear that he has not given them full information, but has concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated, and by that means induced them to enter into measures injurious to their country, and which they would not have consented to had the true state of things been disclosed to them,"

The general message from interpreters of the Constitution is that impeachable offenses are not limited to specific violation of criminal statutes. The constitution was intentionally vague on this point to allow flexibility in prosecuting a president. Justice Joseph Story wrote in his Commentaries on the Constitution in 1833:

"Not but that crimes of a strictly legal character fall within the scope of the power; but that it has a more enlarged operation, and reaches, what are aptly termed political offenses, growing out of personal misconduct or gross neglect, or usurpation, or habitual disregard of the public interests, various in their character, and so indefinable in their actual involutions, that it is almost impossible to provide systematically for them by positive law."

We can see that the reason to commence impeachment proceedings does not necessarily need to be a matter of law breaking. It can involve issues of public trust and personal integrity, too. To put it simply, the power to impeach allowed Congress to toss out bad apples.
So, where are we? There is evidence of law breaking by this administration and we have a written duty that says Congress needs to rectify this situation. That duty, of course, being expressed in various sections of the Constitution of the United States. We now know that the House of Representatives needs to initiate the process of impeachment with a vote. This leads me to finding out who my State Representative is. That would be Rick Larson (website). I guess I'll have to call him and/or write him demanding that he do his duty as the people's Representative and uphold our Constitution and our laws, per sworn oath. In addition, I'll do the same for the rest of Washington State's Representatives:
Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island 
Brian Baird of Vancouver 
Doc Hastings of Pasco 
Cathy McMorris of Deer Lake 
Norm Dicks of Belfair 
Jim McDermott of Seattle 
Dave Reichert of Auburn 
Adam Smith of Tacoma
Additionally, I'm planning to delve deeper into the subject of the "power of the purse" and how it relates to "consent." What happens if Americans are not allowed to withhold their consent from government? It destroys the very foundation on which our governmental system was built upon--Consent of the Governed. Without our consent, we are reduced to nothing more than a third-world dictatorship. Tyranny will grow and prosper like a cancer without the people's ability to cut off it's food supply. Consent, in the form of money, must be withheld, in order to keep this cancer in check, or else our system of government will cease to exist. Once this power is usurped from us, we'll find ourselves where the signers of The Declaration of Independence found themselves--with their backs against the wall. Tomorrow, I'm planning an in depth exploration of this topic. Stay tuned for more...


Blogger Mark said...

You expect Congress to act on constitutional principles. The only principles they respect are those things that will get them re-elected. Sure, the Democrats would support impeachment because it would damage their political opponents. But, in power, they would be little different from the Republicans. Hillary, for example, is trying to move to the right of Bush on military imperialism, though perhaps "to the right of" is the wrong direction. "To the crazier than", is probably more accurate.


9:56 AM  

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