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Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly

Abstract

Impeachment is a British invention. It arose as one of a set of tools employed by Parliament in its long contest with the Crown over the reach of the monarch’s authority. British impeachment practice matters to Americans because the Founders’ understanding of British history influenced their decision to include impeachment in the American constitution and their conception of how impeachment fit in a balanced system of ostensibly co-equal branches. The Article traces the evolution of Parliament’s use of impeachment and of the categories of behavior it designated as impeachable. These included: armed rebellion and other overt treasons; common crimes like murder and rape; corruption (particularly the abuse of office for self-enrichment); incompetence, neglect, or maladministration of office; and betrayal of the nation’s foreign policy interests. Finally, although Parliament sometimes used impeachment for less dramatic ends, its one indispensable function was removal of officials whose behavior threatened the constitutional order by promoting royal/executive absolutism over representative institutions and the rule of law.

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