The verb “impeach” as defined by Webster’s Third International Dictionary is to cause an official to be removed from office because of conviction of impropriety, misdemeanor, or misconduct while in said office. The right to impeach public officials is secured by the U.S. Constitution in Article I, Sections 2 and 3, which discuss the procedure, and in Article II, Section 4, which indicates the grounds for impeachment: “the President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Treason and bribery are specified by the framers as “high crimes,” however, it is the “other high crimes and misdemeanors” that, as Amar points out, “will ultimately call for a more nuanced interpretation” (Amar). It is my contention that this interpretation may or may not include the sexual misconduct of William Jefferson Clinton, but it does warrant conviction for perjury to a jury about such actions. As the Southmayd Professor of Law at Yale Law School, Akhil Reed Amar has authored several books regarding the Constitution and Bill of Rights such as The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principals (Yale, 1997), and The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (Yale, 1998).
He has written widely on constitutional issues for such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, Policy Review, The New Republic, and Slate. He is considered an expert in this area, and has been widely cited by scholars, judges, and justices. It is clear that his credibility is unquestionable. In his recent article entitled Trial and Tribulation, published in the magazine The New Republic, Amar opens that “No president is above the law, but the law for presidents is different than for others, at least in the case of impeachment.” As Amar also points out “A president must pursue sound national policies that may render him unpopular in some localities”; therefore he “should not be obstructed by a grand or petit jury from any one locality.” In other words, if the president were to enact a policy that some small municipality, or county, or even a state may wholly disagree with or even find unlawful in their representation, that entity should obviously not be able to pursue the president for prosecution solely on the grounds of political differences. This is necessary in order to protect the office of the presidency, and protecting the presidency is of great importance to this nation.
Protecting it would be the very reason for the removal of Bill Clinton. His acts of indiscretion only added to the already tarnished reputation of politicians in general, but now he brings this infection into the most sacred of houses, the White House. Another point is that to remove a president from office would mean to “undo the votes of millions of Americans on Election Day.” For the Senate to be able to do this frivolously would mean a “slide toward a kind of parliamentary government that our entire structure of government was designed to repudiate.” This would be a bad thing. Our government is structured so that the president, chosen by the people, has a powerful role in government; powerful enough to enact drastic changes as the changing world calls for. This populist presidency that we have chosen to govern ourselves by gives a lot of power to one man.
If this endowment is not used to our liking, the people also have the power not to re-elect. However, in times of drastic misuses or abuses of power, the Constitution stipulates a course of action to protect us from such an administration. Amar seems to focus too much on the difference between the impeachment of a judge, or other, and that of a president. He doesn’t spend enough time discussing whether or not what Clinton actually did was impeachable. He refers to it as “the pesky definitional problem posed by” what the Constitution refers to as “high crimes and misdemeanors”. Here he makes the valid point that when interpreting the Constitution, specifically Article II, section 4 (paraphrased above), we need not take it so literally. In his opinion “This clause lumps together presidential impeachments with all others (vice presidents, judges, justices, Cabinet officers, inferior officers).” He gives the example of Article II, section 2 which states that “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, [the president] shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Councils, Judges of the Supreme Court, and other Officers of the United States.” and his point is that this clause also “lumps together” these different offices.
Although the Constitution puts no weight on one or the other of the offices, some are no doubt more deserving of stricter standards than others. To apply “blinkered textualism,” as Amar puts it, to the interpretation of these two separate Articles would be a grave mistake, but here he subtly refers to we who believe Clinton actually did something wrong as such “blinkered textualists” and completely misses the point of why this has been brought to light. The fact remains that Bill Clinton lied under oath to a jury during a formal investigation. Many presidents have had personal problems, but not many went so far as to commit perjury to cover it up. People seem to be duped into believing that this an issue of “what” he lied about.
The fact is, “the impeachment of Mr. Clinton on Lewinsky-related charges deferred a much-needed inquiry into the graver charges that are pending against him – specifically, treason and bribery, which are specifically cited in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment” (Grigg). The feeling from Mr. Amar is that he would have us believe that Mr. Clinton merely slipped up under the gun, and that it was only a lie about his personal life that really is not any of our business anyway. That we “should spare the people’s president-especially if his crimes reflect a character flaw that the people duly considered before voting for him” (Amar).
Agreeing with Mr. Amar that we should spare Clinton if it were “borderline or low ‘high crimes’,” I just don’t agree that these crimes are as such. We as a nation must be very cautious when we delve into the business of taking away the power of our leader of leaders, lest we take away power from ourselves. But in contrast we must not be hesitant to act when action is called for. We must recognize that the office of the presidency is one of the cornerstones of the foundation of our country but also that it is not impervious to corruption. It is a fragile thing that we need to embrace and protect at all costs.
The president does at least deserve to at least be dishonored, in spite of a job well done. He has disgraced the office of the presidency and created an international scandal bringing shame to a nation. No matter how different the law may pertain to him, no one is above the honor and integrity of this great nation.