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Impeachment Merry-Go-Round

One of the most widespread misconceptions being bandied-about in these impeachment times is the notion that there can be no appeal from whatever the Senate decides in an impeachment case. Although members of the House of Representatives do refer to the Senate (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) as "Mount Olympus," the mythological home of the gods, the Senate's pre- eminence in impeachment matters could prove to be a real myth.

If the Senate fails to conduct or mishandles an impeachment trial, the Supreme Court could decide they have to do it all over again. With that (horrendous) thought in mind, every Senator would be well-advised to become thoroughly familiar with the impeachment case of Nixon v United States.

Of course, Richard Nixon was never impeached; but Walter L. Nixon Jr. was. and the matter wound-up in the U.S. Supreme Court, where then-Solicitor-General Kenneth Starr argued the government's case. Ironically, this 1993 case involving Nixon and Starr provided almost-prescient guidance for the Senate as it now determines the form Bill Clinton's impeachment trial should take. Nixon's case also involved virtually identical charges.

Nixon was Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. He was convicted of making false statements before a federal grand jury, and sentenced to prison. Nixon refused to resign and continued to collect his judicial salary while serving his prison sentence. So, the House of Representatives passed articles of impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors. Then the Senate convicted Nixon on impeachment charges of giving false testimony before a grand jury and removed Nixon from office.

Nixon sued the United States, claiming his Senate procedure was not a "trial" as required by the Constitution, asking that his judicial salary and privileges be restored. District Court decided Nixon's claim was "nonjusticiable," i.e., involved a political question that courts could not consider. The Court of Appeals affirmed; the Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

The Supreme Court was unanimous in its judgment that Nixon was lawfully removed from office; but it was only a slender majority (Justices Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) which rested Nixon's judgment on the nonjusticiability of impeachment proceedings. A strong minority (Justices Stevens, White, Blackmun and Souter) indicated that impeachment matters would become justiciable under certain circumstances.

Justice Stevens, writing in Nixon v U.S., could not imagine that the hypothetical situations expressed by Justices White, Blackmun and Souter would ever come to pass; and the latter three had no way of knowing, in 1993, that in 1999 the Senate might "precipitate a constitutional crisis" by taking actions "far beyond the scope of its constitutional authority;" but there we were, and here we are.

It would seem that any scheme designed to cut short or circumvent a full trial for Bill Clinton, in all of its essential aspects, runs the serious risk of being held invalid by the Supreme Court. Any such failure of the Senate to perform its clear constitutional duty as jurors in Clinton's case could be challenged by the prosecution, the defense, or any other aggrieved person determined to have standing.

If an appeal were filed following such action (or inaction, as the case may be), it appears there would be at least four Justices likely to agree the case is justiciable; and it's a safe bet the appellant would find a fifth; because in Nixon's appeal, even the majority was constrained to "...agree with Nixon that courts possess power to review either legislative or executive action that transgresses identifiable textual limits" of the Constitution.

"As we have made clear," the majority held, "whether the action of [either the Legislative or Executive Branch] exceeds whatever authority has been committed, is itself a delicate exercise in constitutional interpretation and is a responsibility of this Court as ultimate interpreter of the Constitution." They concluded in Nixon's case, however, "...that the word "try" in the Impeachment Trial Clause does not provide an identifiable textual limit on the authority which is committed to the Senate," because Nixon's case involved only a question about the manner in which the Senate received and presented the evidence for trial, NOT whether the process as a whole constituted a trial.

Thus, even the majority on Nixon's appeal left the door open for another try at defining the word "try" in the Impeachment Clause, if the legislative action being appealed appears to exceed the limits (or not fulfill the minimum requirements) of the Constitutional meaning of the word "try."

There are those in the Senate like Joseph Biden (D - Delaware) professing reliance on "numerous constitutional scholars" (law professors), who claim there is "no Constitutional requirement to try Clinton's case." In reality, Biden and his ilk would be well-advised to remember that the only "Constitutional scholars" who count are nine Justices who have the final Constitutional power to decide that Biden and his numerous advisors are wrong.

In light of the actual presidential impeachment role our Constitution provides for the Senate; and given the dichotomous role some Senators are now carving out for themselves; when the matter of Bill Clinton's impeachment reaches the Supreme Court (as it undoubtedly will), Justices would really be performing a national service if they would just define the meaning of the word: juror.

As for Walter L. Nixon, wherever you are: if the Senate does what it appears to be on the verge of doing with Bill Clinton, you should quickly ask the Senate to reconsider your impeachment. We have it on the highest authority (direct from Mount Olympus) that this time, Senate Democrats will let you off the hook with a choreographed chant of "naughty boy" and a real paper censure suitable for framing.

Howard Henry Tarjeft (Michigan)

Growing Call For Ethics Investigation Of Henry Hyde

It's about time he has to face the "rule of law" for the S&L coverup. GOOD JOB! I was beginning to think no newspaper would ever write about it.

(name withheld by request)

The Fight For Headwaters Forest

As a requirement for one of our courses at The College of New Jersey, we were supposed to find three articles on David "Gypsy" Chain. Although I found three articles about an hour ago, and I continue to keep reading. What happened to David is absolutly horrifying and so unjust, I can't pull myself away from these articles and learning more about him and what he represents. I just wanted to say that I think EF! sounds like a wonderful cause, however dangerous it may be. Knowing that someone like David died for what he believed in is an inspiration and i can only hope that it won't happen again in the near future. Maybe the world will become a little more aware about the relationships between organizations like EF! and loggers and realize how mistreated environmentalists and org. like EF! are.

David sounds like a very brave man, and I will pray for him and for the loggers that took his life, that he may rest in peace and that they might realize that they took the life of a wonderful man, for absolutely no reason at all.

Alison Flaherty

Whoa! That audio tape of logger and Earth Firsters! sure sounds incriminating. I certainly hope that it can be enhanced technically and used as evidence. There should be a trial. What are they waiting for?

Sherry Korniloff


Levi's has published a webpage in conjunction with their "What's True" ad campaign at There, it asks visitors to enter "your truth." This is a chance to add links to sweatshop related sites, etc.

I think Levi's should get a taste of what's true.

Patrick May (New York)

[Editor's Note: As reported in a special report on blue jeans from the Clean Clothes Campaign, Levi Strauss has an environmental policy, but no fixed targets and dates for improvements. Sweatshop Watch also notes that "Levi Strauss has adopted a fiercely anti-union strategy". An index of 1998 developments on Levi-Strauss use of sweatshopsis available for Global Exchange.]

1998 Decisions Show Why Things Don't Work

I usually enjoy scathing critism of folly, but this is wide of the mark on too many issues.

First, Japan protects its agricultural base on the island for very sound strategic grounds -- which, if found in a third world country ,would be cheered by most thoughtful liberals. Food should be produced locally. But Japan's high price of real estate, created due to industrial success on limited buildable land on a series of volcanic islands, would soon wipe out local food production if left up to pure capitalist market forces. Japan wisely resists the conversion of arable land to suburban sprawl and industrial wasteland. Japan's neighbors should encourage Japan's insistence on local food production; after all, Japan fought an imperial expansionist war over industrial resources.

Second, spending money on solving the Y2K problem, even huge large sums is not a "$1 trillion hole in the world economy," no more than the New Deal programs in the mid-20th century were. The money goes to improve the software infrastructure of the world's economy and helps the economy by employing and training tens of thousands of software programmers, thus increasing the "money velocity" (from Keynesian economics). Far from being a problem, the efforts to solve the Y2K issue are a boon to the economy in a time that might have seen a serious contraction (read: '30s style Depression) as corporations reduced spending in the wake of the collapse of Asian markets.

Candice Brown (California)

Canada Rejects Bovine Growth Hormone

When dairy cows are given BGH they suffer from more udder infections. This means that there is more pus in the milk that we drink. Think about that next time you're at the dairy section of the supermarket.

Lance Howell (Washington)

Too Close for Comfort

I have a great idea for a bumper sticker: KILL TO END ABORTION.

Matthew Rohrer

[Editor's Note: Bumper stickers like this DO exist.]

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Albion Monitor February 4, 1999 (

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