The Head Royce School

Last updated: May 28, 2004 2:01 PM

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Who Can Be Impeached?


        To the average American, the word “impeachment” is associated with the unsuccessful impeachment of President Clinton discussed above. Therefore they believe that only Presidents can be impeached. But the Constitution states in Article II, section 4, “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United Sates,” are subject to impeachment. While it is clear who the President and the Vice President are, there is ambiguity regarding the definition of a “civil officer of the United States.” The first impeachment in the United States was that of Senator William Blount, who was impeached for helping the British conquer Louisiana and Florida. On July 8, 1797, he was expelled from the Senate, the day after he was impeached. Blount argued in front of the Senate that “civil officers” were officials appointed by the President and, since Senators were appointed by a state legislature, it was unconstitutional to impeach a Senator. On January 10, 1798, the Senate defeated the resolution, stating that Blount was a “civil officer” of the United States and, therefore, subject to impeachment. Then, on January 14, 1799, the Senate dismissed the impeachment charges against Blount. Since the Blount case, the House and the Senate have defined “civil officer” as anyone who is appointed to office by the President. Under this interpretation, the only impeachable officials other than the President and Vice President are federal judges and cabinet members. The Constitution does not completely define who can be impeached, because it does not define civil officer, but officials interpreted civil officers to be anyone appointed by the president. The American Bar association has restated this position by stating that civil officers are “federal judges, cabinet member, but not Senators and Representatives” (Impeachment: A Look at the Process).