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Question of the day

Tuesday, Apr 29, 2008

* As I’ve told you before, the Illinois Constitution lays down no set parameters for impeachment, except that it requires 60 votes in the House. But if someone is impeached they then proceed to an eventual trial in the Senate presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, so there probably ought to be grounds other than the “We don’t need a reason, we just need the votes” argument.

* Question: What do you think ought to be the minimal requirements for impeachment of a governor?

* As a bonus question, should any impeachment occur during a criminal investigation, or should the General Assembly allow those investigations to run their course before acting?

By the way, this is not a question about whether Gov. Blagojevich should or should not be hauled before the House and Senate. It’s about the concept.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - iMAGINE - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 10:53 am:

    “Pay-Yo-Play Scheme on Steroids” would be the minimal requirements for impeachment of any governor.

    Start the impeachment proceeding now, knowing this legislature it would either take forever or never get resolved.

  2. - cermak_rd - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 10:59 am:

    There ought at least to be at a minimum the appearance of malfeasance as grounds, with some evidence presented to show said malfeasance. Otherwise, the executive becomes less than a co-equal branch of government, if he can be tossed out just because the GA doesn’t like him or wants to get around him.

    If a smoking gun is found during an investigation, or if the executive is trying to prevent the investigators from finding said smoking gun, then I see no reason for the Leg to hold up impeachment until ever i is dotted and t is crossed in the investigation.

  3. - Levois - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:00 am:

    High crimes & misdemeanors.

  4. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:00 am:

    We give legal standards too much credibility. Just because something isn’t illegal, doesn’t mean it isn’t morally wrong. For too long we have seen lawyers leading our debates and their standards should not be considered concrete guidelines. Lawyers and their legal advice should not be societal standards. These standards are too low. Politicians are accountable to a higher degree than mere legal standards.

    The minimum requirement for impeachment of a governor is to show material evidence of his inability to govern. This includes an inability to bring unity within his own political party. This includes an inability to meet constitutional requirements of balancing a budget or passing a budget within a reasonable amount of time, (six months would qualify). Impeachment should be called when a governor deliberately and knowingly breaks administrative law repeatedly.

    We are making too big a deal over impeachment. If a governor is not doing their job, they should be fired through recall or impeachment. We have often witnessed a governor lose a re-election. Impeachment and recall is similar except it is done through the legislature, not the ballot box.

    Impeachment should be considered separate from a criminal investigation due to the minimum requirements I described above. It shouldn’t take a criminal investigation to use impeachment. Impeachment shouldn’t be seen as a mini-criminal trial. Impeachment is a political trial based on a governor’s repeated recklessness and inability to perform the job. So I do not believe that we should only hold impeachments when criminal acts and investigations have occurred.

    Recall and impeachment are political tools that kick in for different reasons than criminal activities. There is a difference between being fired and being indicted. Impeachment addresses both situations although we’ve often only seen it used when an elected official is indicted for a criminal act. So there is a lower threshold for them, in my opinion.

    What would keep impeachment from being abused? Well, real-world politics does.

  5. - Learning the Ropes - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:01 am:

    I think it depends. If the impeachment is based upon the same charges the investigation is looking into, then yes I believe it should wait. Not only on a procedural standpoint, but what happens if he is impeached for crimes that he is found innocent in a court of law for… messy situation.

    Now if he can be impeached on grounds exclusive and independent of the criminal investigation, go for it.

  6. - I'm Just Saying - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:05 am:

    Oh Boy, Oh Boy, if you thought the Heiple hearings were fun, just wait, if this goes down :)

  7. - Ahem - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:06 am:

    I really don’t know the answer to your question but you seem to have added “AJAX” to your blog — GREAT!

  8. - archpundit - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:06 am:

    There seems to me to the be four standards for impeachment that we should generally follow:

    1) Serious crimes including those that are abuses of office

    2) Incapacity–I don’t believe we have a 25th amendment for the state.

    3) Violations of the State Constitution’s separation of powers. This is usually only enforced through civil suits, but should be considered grounds for impeachment if it is serious and repeated.

    4) Dangerous levels of incompetence. Even if someone has not done anything wrong, the Lege should be able to remove someone who is so incompetent that he doesn’t have the ability to run the state. This one should have a very high bar to it, but it’s still important.

  9. - Leave a light on George - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:07 am:

    Richard Nixon was never accused of a crime during the watergate era. He resigned in the face of an imminent impeachment vote. So no I don’t think a criminal indictment or conviction is a necessary precursor to impeachment. That being said serious malfesance should be the minimum standard to consider impeachment - well in the rear view mirror of this administation

  10. - Levois - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:14 am:

    Oh and I think an impeachment trial or inquiry should happen during the course of an independent criminal investigation.

  11. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:14 am:

    Let’s try to stay on topic, please.

  12. - the Other Anonymous - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:23 am:

    I think Archpundit laid out the standard nicely, and I’ve nothing to add on standards.

    As for the Chief Justice presiding over an impeachment trial, I think this is less a matter of the impeachment being based on legal (statutory or case law) grounds. The role of the presiding officer in an impeachment trial is to keep it orderly and fair. I don’t think the Chief Justice should have the right to establish the parameters.

    I also don’t think that a criminal investigation needs to run its course before impeachment. Now, it’s incumbent on the legslature and Chief Justice to bear in mind that the impeachment may affect the criminal proceeding, and they should act to avoid the type of situation that was created in the Ollie North trial.

  13. - Indecision - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:29 am:

    Impeach him because he is trying to go ahead and spend money on a program that the legislature rejected.
    Impeach him because he took $1500 for a state job.

    Waiting for Patrick Fitzgerald to plod along with his glacial prosecutorial tempo is allowing the Gov to continue doing millions and millions of dollars in damage to our state.
    And Lisa Madigan has a convenient letter from the US Atty allowing her to sit this one out.

    We are hemorraghing jobs (evil profit-mongering corporations are leaving the state) and we are hemmorraghing human talent (innovators head for the South or West right after graduation).
    Also, our infrastructure is crumbling rapidly.

    Please, somebody step up and get this guy out or there won’t be anything left for you Dems to fight over.

  14. - bored now - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:37 am:

    in reality, no matter what standards we try to apply, it is in reality more like pornography: we know it when we see it. i don’t think more formal standards need to be written up just because they will be discarded if the house wants to do so.

    as for the bonus, i’d suggest that one should wait for a criminal investigation to conclude only *if* that’s the reason legislators are pursuing impeachment. if it is not the actual reason, then there should be no reason to wait until after the criminal investigation has concluded.

    to my way of thinking, we are in a period of paralysis right now in illinois government, so the question is, can we afford to wait to make changes to end that state of paralysis?

  15. - Squideshi - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:44 am:

    Technically speaking, “impeachment” is nothing more than the making of legal charges; so in my opinion, all that should be required for impeachment is a majority vote on a motion to impeach, which includes legal charges and evidence, and was properly brought by someone with standing to do so. Perhaps what you were looking for here was what should constitute proper legal cause for a conviction following impeachment? If that is the case, then I would say that any violation of the law may be fair game; however, in particular, specifically any type of dereliction of duty may be best suited here.

    For those who would like the remove an official on “political” charges, recall is the appropriate vehicle for that. Unfortunately, Illinois does not have a recall provision; so anyone’s opinion about the quality of an official’s performance is not an issue, so long as they comply with the law.

  16. - Carlos - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:45 am:

    What’s the point, all this will go away after the 2008 general election. It’ll be a win win year for Blagojevich!

  17. - Macbeth - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:49 am:

    My sense is that until there’s actual criminal evidence against Blagojevich, then nothing will happen and this is all pointless talk.

    The only way (it seems to me, at least) that will people will truly move on getting Blagojevich out of office is proof that he did something criminal. He’s no moral compass — and certainly he’s not savvy enough to understand the difference between right and wrong — but the morality argument will go nowhere. I mean, I find Emil Jones in particular obstructionist and unhelpful — perhaps even more so than the governor himself — but I don’t want to impeach Jones (as much as I deplore what he’s done over the past two years.)

    It seems that folks are in a holding pattern. And Blagojevich isn’t doing much to help (or hinder) his case. He’s just keeping his mouth shut and pretending that this is all just more fuss-and-bother, blocking his ability to fight the good fight “for the people.”

    It seems like energies should be spent on solving the actual issues until criminal behavior is proven. (I understand, though, that criminal behavior is not necessary for impeachment. I’m saying that impeachment will go nowhere in Illinois until criminal behavior is proven.)

  18. - Metro East News Guy - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:50 am:

    Isn’t it convenient how the Constitution specifies how to impeach a sitting governor? Minimally, I think decisive evidence of any felony (including theft over $300) or violation of any law/rule/regulation regarding duties of the office should be grounds to begin the impeachment process.
    It’s then up to our independent, strong-willed members of the House to determine if the charges meet their own standards. THEN it goes to the Senate, where I’m sure it will get a fair hearing.
    By the way, I think I saw an Iowa tourism brochure which trumped the fact ‘home to the nation’s most compact & contiguous political districts.’ Maybe I’ll move there….

  19. - A Citizen - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 11:51 am:

    We need some “Case Law” to go on this issue. So, simply commence guv’s impeachment and let’s set the precedent, now!

  20. - Cranky Old Man - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 12:02 pm:

    I think that as long as there is proof of dereliction of duty or high crimes, impeachment should proceed regardless of an ongoing investigation. It’s possible that someone could get re-elected waiting for an investigation to conclude. I say, if there’s cause, they should be removed ASAP.

  21. - anon - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 12:03 pm:

    Lets see, the state ethics test always talks about avoiding any action that could even be considered by a reasonable person to show “an appearance of impropriety”.

    If other state employees are held to this standard, why should any governor be exempt.
    So my minimum requirements would be any action that gives a reasonable person the “an appearance of impropriety”.

    Just because a governor cannot be proven to be guilty in a court of law does not mean that they should not be removed from office. Start the procedings when a governors actions have crossed the threshold.

  22. - Tony - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 12:26 pm:

    I’d agree with Levois and say high crimes and misdemeanors. There should be some kind of hard legal evidence for misdeeds. You shouldn’t be able to impeach an elected official - a governor, a President, whoever - just because he or she is unpopular or has allegedly engaged in “immoral” acts.

  23. - Captain America - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 12:45 pm:

    Indictment,while in office, probably would be the best evidence of a high crime and misdemeanor sufficient to warrant an impeachment. Indictment would be prima facie evdience that the Governor is no longer fit to serve/able to discharge his duties effectively.

    Impeachment could be used as leverage to force Governor A to resign promptly.Absent indictment, impeachment is not going to happen. If he refused to resign after an indictemnt, then anyone who refuses to support impeachment should be voted out of office.

  24. - so-called "Austin Mayor" - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 12:49 pm:

    “Question: What do you think ought to be the minimal requirements for impeachment of a governor?”

    A1: Cubs fan.

    “As a bonus question, should any impeachment occur during a criminal investigation, or should the General Assembly allow those investigations to run their course before acting?”

    A2: Impeachment should not occur during a criminal investigation or a pennant race.

    – SCAM
    so-called “Austin Mayor”

  25. - Legal Eagle - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 12:52 pm:

    Impeachment is a political/policy judgment; totally separate from a criminal conviction. Criminal conviction requires proof ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ before an impartial jury, using strict rules of evidence, and based on very specific charges and a statute defining the crime. Impeachment in Illinois (and Washington) can be based on whatever the Legislature decides is grounds - malfeasance, misfeasance, or bad hair. An impeachment presumably is not reviewable by the courts. So yes, a supermajority of the Legislature could remove a governor, but the strictures of the political process and political implications would limit abuse of this great power, as a practical matter. So impeachment does not need to wait for any criminal investigation, nor should it.

  26. - Cal Skinner - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 12:52 pm:

    Put contributors under oath, as well as those given federal immunity and see what Mike’s lawyers can come up with.

  27. - Little Egypt - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 12:53 pm:

    How about failure to uphold the constitution of Illinois? Plain and simple. Blago has been trying to rewrite the constitution and upholds only the parts he wants. Shouldn’t a governor, a CEO, a president be expected to put in minimal time in an office provided to them? Did this guy get elected with the people thinking he was going to work at home during commercials during Hannah Montana shows? Blago’s got it made and we are enabling him. Let’s go forward with impeachment, the sooner the better.

    But I must stand by my previous posts. To move impeachment forward, there must be leadership in this State. We have none. We will have to wait for Fitz.

  28. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 1:04 pm:

    To the bonus question: The activities of the U.S. Department of Justice, though informative, are immaterial. The elected state representatives exercise the sole power to impeach, judge and remove state office holders. The G has its job, the GA has its job.

    To the primary question: As to requirements for impeachment, I think both the U.S. and Illinois constitutions are profoundly wise to be silent or purposely vague (what are high crimes and misdemeanors? anything you want them to be).

    Explicit requirements would almost certainly lead to court challenges as to the constitutionality of any articles of impeachment brought by the House or conviction by the Senate. That could produce a Gordian Knot of unresolvable conflict among Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.

    Practical requirement for impeachment include:

    Obstruction of Justice

    Abuse of Power

    Contempt of the will of the GA

    Financial Malfeasance


    Dereliction of Duties

  29. - Ivory-billed Woodpecker - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 1:07 pm:

    Abuse of authority seems an appropriate threshold.

    Last year, the Governor repeatedly called the General Assembly into extra innings.

    If the House thinks the Gov intended to harass that co-equal branch of government, that his actions were an abuse of constitutional process rising to a political offense, they ought to impeach.

  30. - Garp - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 1:38 pm:

    Illinois has had three recent Governors hit the slammer after leaving office, so I’m thinking that impeachment before indictment or conviction might benefit the taxpayers. Only in Illinois is getting fired worse than going to jail.

  31. - Steve - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 1:41 pm:

    The grounds for impeachment should be the violation of Illinois State Constitution.Also,the failure to work the job of Governor on a serious and meaningful basis in Springfield.Blagojevich doesn’t really want to be in Springfield which is evident by his behavior.The House has grounds for impeachment.It’s up to them to exercise their powers.Why wait for an indictment? The state of Illinois needs problems solved today not 3 years from now.

  32. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 1:41 pm:

    Rich, you asked for minimum: I suggest:
    Nonfeasance or misfeasance

  33. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 2:23 pm:

    Impeachment should not be for disagreements with the legislature.

    It would seem to me that the Gov should be charged with a crime (at least the level of a felony) before the will of the voters is challenged.

  34. - One of the 35 - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 2:52 pm:

    Only if the law has been broken. Poor performance, by any standard, is just something you are stuck with if you elected the person.

  35. - downhereforyears - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 5:29 pm:

    Let the U S Attorney do his job. He won’t make a circus of it. Do we really expect Emil Jones and his team of scholars to do a fair job. All they would do is get in the way of Fitzgerald.

  36. - Squideshi - Wednesday, Apr 30, 08 @ 7:06 am:

    “Impeachment is a political/policy judgment; totally separate from a criminal conviction.”

    Yes. It is separate from a criminal conviction; however, it is not separate from LEGAL charges. Again, the difference between recall and impeachment is that recall is for political charges, while impeachment is for legal charges. To put this another way, to impeach you need “cause” but to recall, you do not. The cause for impeachment would be based upon some legal offense, criminal or not; and in the world of private organizations, this would include “private law” such as bylaws, rules of order, etc.

  37. - chiatty - Wednesday, Apr 30, 08 @ 8:51 am:

    I’ll agree that the post-Levine stories coming out of the Rezko trial look bad for the governor, but he hasn’t even been charged with a high crime, a misdemeanor or a parking ticket. If the Rod-bashers think they can prove what the feds haven’t even formally charged, they’re out of their minds. Cooler heads should prevail and leave our constitution alone.

  38. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 30, 08 @ 9:07 am:

    Impeachment has nothing to do with whether or not someone is charged with a federal crime. Nixon was never charged. Clinton was never charged. Andrew Johnson was never charged. It’s a constitutional power of the legislature on both the federal and state levels. God help us if there comes a time we invest all political power in the Justice Department, no matter who is running it.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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