Podcast episode examines impeachment’s past, present and future

October 01, 2019
Michael Nelson, Jeffrey L. Hyde and Sharon D. Hyde and Political Science Board of Visitors Early Career Professor in Political Science, joins the Democracy Works podcast this week to discuss the Constitutional framework for impeachment.

Michael Nelson, Jeffrey L. Hyde and Sharon D. Hyde and Political Science Board of Visitors Early Career Professor in Political Science and affiliate faculty at Penn State Law, joins the Democracy Works podcast this week to discuss the Constitutional framework for impeachment.

IMAGE: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The impeachment inquiry launched against President Trump last week marked the fourth time in history such a proceeding has been initiated. It’s been more than 20 years since the last impeachment proceeding began against Bill Clinton, which means the details of how it works might be a little fuzzy.

This week’s episode of the Democracy Works podcast, produced by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and WPSU Penn State, sheds light on the constitutional framework for impeachment, how it requires cooperation from all three branches of government and where the current inquiry might lead.

The episode features a conversation between Michael Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and professor of political science, and Michael Nelson, the Jeffrey L. Hyde and Sharon D. Hyde and Political Science Board of Visitors Early Career Professor in Political Science and affiliate faculty at Penn State Law.

Nelson and Berkman discuss the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which factors prominently into what offenses are considered impeachable.

“The term comes from British Common Law and typically refers to the most severe crimes committed by someone with a high level of political power,” Nelson said.

Impeachment also requires involvement from all three branches of government. The House of Representatives brings an inquiry and the Senate holds an impeachment proceeding that’s presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court — all in service of an indictment against someone in the executive branch.

“When the framers devised the Constitution, they were concerned about the diffusion of power and making sure no one branch would become too powerful,” Nelson said “That same logic is in place with impeachment. It’s one of the rare cases where all three branches of government are involved.”

The notion of acting as a check on presidential power is relevant to foreign affairs, where the president traditionally has more leeway to act unilaterally, Nelson said.

“The president is supposed to be the U.S. representative in foreign affairs,” Nelson said. “Finding out that someone is potentially using this power for their own gain might have been enough to sway House members who were unsure about impeachment before.”

Listen to the full conversation on impeachment at wpsu.org/democracy or by searching “Democracy Works” in any podcast app.

Last Updated October 01, 2019