In the wake of the failure of the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, I’ve decided to read up a bit on the process. To be fair, the publisher sent me Gene Healy’s monograph Indispensable Remedy: The Broad Scope of the Constitution’s Impeachment Power long before the impeachment vote took place. But I’m just now getting to it, because that’s how summers work these days.
Indispensable Remedy is short, lucid, accessible, and definitely worth reading. It is also historically rich, careful in its analysis, and largely without partisan bias. If you’re looking for a definitive statement as to whether or not Donald Trump should be impeached, despite the click-bait title of this review you’ll not find the answer in Indispensable Remedy.
Instead, you’ll find a brief history of impeachment and a thorough analysis of what the specific language of the Constitution might mean. Just what is a “high crime” or “misdemeanor” in the context of the Constitution? (“Treason” and “bribery” are of course much more clear.) Healy gives thoughtful analysis of the Founders’ discussions, subsequent examples of impeachments, and the language of later Constitutional actions.
“‘misdemeanor’ should be understood in a broader sense: ‘ill behavior; evil conduct; fault; mismanagement,’ as it’s defined in Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).” (16)
So when we’re thinking about what “misdemeanor” might mean in the context of a President’s behavior, it is less a question of something like jaywalking and more a question of whether he is doing or saying something that would fall under the category of “evil conduct.” What that is, of course, is subject to much discussion.
Above all, Healy wants us to take away the point that impeachment is a critical tool in a republic, but it is also one which is not to be used lightly. At the beginning and at the end of the monograph, he warns us:
…the scope of ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ shouldn’t turn on one’s opinion of any particular president. Partisans who lower the bar to impeachment in order to punish a president they revile–or raise it to save one they support–may, under future presidents, live to regret the standard they’ve set. (1)
For those on the progressive side of the aisle, the same principle applies. You need to be consistent in your analysis. If the previous President got numerous passes because you happen to agree with his policies, the current President should as well however much you may disagree with his political positions.
In either case, Indispensable Remedy is a useful tool (not quite an indispensable one, alas) for helping us think well about a part of the Constitution that is very much in the political atmosphere these days.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO