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The abuse of power has never been welcomed by society, whether it is in the workplace or in the government. One who misuses their privileges is subject to immediate investigation and eventually prosecution. For some government officials, the result can be a dismissal from their position, for the President, however, it is known as impeachment. According to Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, the President, shall be removed from the Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. To the creators of our Constitution, it meant wrongs committed against our system of government. The impeachment clause was created to protect Americans from a President who was using his official powers against the nation, against the American people, and against our society.
The recent events with President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky have brought the question of impeachment to the surface. Clinton lied to his family and his country, he had other people lie for him, he tampered with evidence, and basically abused his power as the President. This sort of behavior is appropriately punishable by the Constitution under High Crime and Misdemeanor , and is vulnerable to impeachment. The perjury and obstruction of justice accusations against Bill Clinton do indeed amount to impeachable offenses.
In order to gain a better understanding of what high crimes and misdemeanors are, we must first review its origin. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, George Mason of Virginia was concerned that the grounds for impeachment were too vague, and that treason and bribery wouldn t cover all crimes. He thus suggested adding maladministration as another reason for impeachment. James Madison agreed with the notion of encompassing more crimes, but felt that maladministration would grant Congress the power to merely impeach the President because they felt he was doing a poor job. Madison thus suggested High crimes and punishment , a well-known term in English law, believing that this would cover most violations and crimes. Mason was quick to see Madison s point and the change was made.
These impeachable offenses do not only apply to government related incidents, it may also include crime s against society and public trust. Historically, Congress had issued Articles of Impeachment in three broad categories: (1) exceeding the constitutional bounds of the powers of the office; (2) behaving in a manner grossly incompatible with the proper function and purpose of the office; and (3) employing the power of the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain. (C-SPAN) The treason and bribery aspect of the Constitution mainly deal with government related issues, while the high crimes and misdemeanors can deal with just about any sort of wrongdoing. Again, an abuse of power or misleading the public can be viewed as an impeachable offense, it does not have to be defined as a direct crime .
Since 1797 Congress has impeached fifteen governmental officials. Included in this group are one president, one Supreme Court justice, a senator, a cabinet member, and eleven federal judges. President Nixon is not included in this list because he resigned before he could be impeached. Of these fifteen, seven were convicted. The first person to be impeached on U.S. soil was Senator William Blount of Tennessee, for planing to help the British capture Louisiana and Florida from the Spaniards. Although he was not convicted, he was expelled from Congress. The first person to actually be convicted however was Judge John Pickering. He was found to be mentally unstable after being caught drunk and unruly. Since then there have been various impeachments due to anything from tax fraud, perjury, treason, and bribery. Because impeachment is so costly and time consuming, Congress is very serious when it comes to deciding whether or not the defendant has truly committed an impeachable offense. This is why there is so much controversy with defining High Crimes and Misdemeanors .
Since the Constitution does not specifically state which crimes are impeachable offenses, it is up to Congress to make the decision. Fortunately, impeachments in the past have been relatively straightforward. It was clear in the case involving Richard Nixon, that he had abused his power as the President to obstruct justice, and was thus subject to impeachment.
But there are no specific standards for impeachment, noted Sam Dash, who served as counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. That means a prosecutor has to make a political as well as a legal judgment as to what would constitute an impeachable offense. High Crimes and Misdemeanors has been interpreted as meaning it doesn’t have to be a crime, Mr. Dash said. The definition for what is impeachable is always being reinvented … Basically impeachment is a political matter. (Washington Post)
The President has certain duties that he needs to fulfill in office. If these are not met, then he is not doing his job. If he is not doing what he s supposed to be, he can be seen as a threat to the well being of society as a whole, and is subject to questioning. Even if the matters are private, the President is still subject to impeachment. Towards the beginning of the Clinton and Lewinsky problems, some were arguing that sex with an intern was a private issue and not a major concern of the government. This is so far from the truth. The President is our leader, if we can t trust his actions, then whom can we count on in crisis time. We as American s need to know what goes on in our leader s private life. It defines what kind of person he is, and whether or not he can be trusted. Unfortunately, Clinton continued on a streak of impeachable offenses, such as perjury and obstruction of justice, which basically buried him in a very deep hole.
In regards to the Clinton scandal, certainly Congress will find definite means to impeach. President Clinton vigorously denied allegations that he and his longtime friend, attorney Vernon Jordan, urged a former White House staffer to lie to Mrs. Jones’s attorneys about whether Monica and the President had a sexual affair when she worked at the White House, which they did, stating, That is not true. That is not true. I did not ask anyone to tell anything other than the truth. (C-SPAN) He also denied allegations of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, which he did. These are all obvious lies, proven by the one key piece of evidence, the stained dress. Lying under oath is certainly a crime known as perjury and will not be tolerated by the American public or a republican congress.
Currently Congress is working frantically, trying to decide about impeaching President Clinton. They hope to vote quite soon, but are continuing to investigate several different leads into the entire case. Presently Congress is concerned with the perjury aspects of the case. Perjury is considered a High crime and is punishable by the law. Impeachment, therefore, will not be the only punishment Clinton will receive if he is convicted. Kenneth Star recently stated in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee,
History and practice support the conclusion that perjury, in particular, is a high crime and misdemeanor. Perjury has been the basis, as the committee knows, for the removal of several judges. As far as we know, no one has questioned whether perjury was a high crime or misdemeanor in those cases. In addition, as several of the scholars who appeared before you testified and to whom the chairmen refer, perjury seems to have been recognized as a high crime or misdemeanor at the time of the founding of our republic. And the House manager’s report in the impeachment of Judge Walter Nixon for perjury stated, ‘It is difficult to imagine an act more subversive to the legal process than lying from the witness stand.’
And finally, I note that the federal sentencing guidelines include bribery and perjury in the same guideline, reflecting the commonsense conclusion that bribery and perjury are equivalent means of interfering with the governmental process. For these reasons, we concluded that perjury and obstruction of justice, like bribery, may constitute grounds for an impeachment. Having said that, let me again emphasize my role here. We had a judgment to make, but whether the president’s actions are, in fact, grounds for an impeachment or some other sanction is a decision in the sole discretion of the Congress. (CBS News) We as American s must now step back and let Congress make an educated decision. I have faith that they will do what is best for the country as a whole. President Clinton will be rightfully punished for his actions.
Fallon, Richard, Three Questions Deserve Consideration. 9-12-98, The Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe
Parry, John, The Misrule of Law. 10-11-98, The Pittsburg Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com
Starr, Kenneth, Testimony Before the House Judiciary Committee. 11-19-98, CBS News Transcript
Tribe, Laurence H., How to Bring Clinton to Justice without Punishing the Nation. 9-16-98, The Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe
House Judiciary Committee, Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment. 1974, Washington Post, http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/impeach.html
High Crimes and Misdemeanors, A Short Story of Impeachment, http://www.infoplease.com/spot/impeach.html
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