What Are "High Crimes and Misdemeanors"?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 4 1999 6:06 PM

What Are "High Crimes and Misdemeanors"?

(Continued from Page 1)

The importance of "other":

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There is a linguistic argument that "treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors" implies that high crimes and misdemeanors must be equal in seriousness to treason and bribery. For instance, a competent author wouldn't write: "murder, child molestation, and other jaywalking-like offenses are impeachable." Instead, he'd write that "murder, child-molestation, and jaywalking-like offenses are impeachable." So the inclusion of "other" suggests that the second half of the phrase ("high crimes and misdemeanors") is comparable in seriousness to the first half (treason and bribery). Furthermore, debates at the Constitutional Convention can be interpreted to show that delegates included the "high crimes and misdemeanors" phrase to allow Congress to remove the president only if he attempted to undo the constitutional plan. (They can also be interpreted to say the opposite.) In sum, the phrase applies only to very serious attempts to subvert the constitutional order, which means that perjury and obstruction of justice are not impeachable offenses.

Maybe they're barking up the wrong tree:

One professor has even suggested that "high crimes and misdemeanors" are not the standard for impeachment, and that a president can be impeached for considerably less. The Constitution says the President "shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." This is analogous to saying that "murderers will be indicted and jailed," which does not imply that kidnappers won't be indicted and/or jailed too. According to this argument, the framers believed that Congress could impeach the president for offenses smaller than "treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors." This returns us to the Ford position that the House can impeach whenever it wants, though the argument does not say that Senate can remove the president whenever it wants.