Impeaching a Private Citizen is Unconstitutional

Jan 27, 2021

After a compelling speech by Sen. Rand Paul presenting the unconstitutionality of impeaching a former president, 45 Republican senators voted against holding an impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. 

The Senate voted 55–45 to table Paul’s point of order, meaning that the impeachment trial will go forward. Republican Sens. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Pat Toomey voted with Democrats to reject Paul’s order, suggesting the five senators will vote to convict Trump. Romney was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump during his first impeachment trial in early 2020. 

House Democrats and 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump earlier this month on the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection,” with Democrats claiming he incited violence at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. However, Trump called on the protesters not to engage in violent acts and later told them to “go home in peace.”

The U.S. Constitution is unquestionably clear on the purpose and limits of the impeachment of a president:    

  • Article 1, Section 3: “When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside.” 
  • Article 2 Section 1 states: “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years.” 
  • Article 2 Section 4 states: “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”  (emphasis added). 

According to the plain language of the Constitution, impeachment may ONLY be used against a person currently in office.  Impeaching a private citizen is unconstitutional. Neither the House nor the Senate have jurisdiction under the Constitution. 

Moreover, the Chief Justice must preside over an impeachment trial of a president in the Senate. Wisely, Chief Justice Roberts has refused to participate in this unconstitutional process. Having a partisan Democrat preside over the trial is a mockery. Sen. Patrick Leahy voted to convict Trump last year, so now he will act as judge and jury. 

Sen. Paul said, “Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office. Hyperpartisan Democrats are about to drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen in our nation's history.” 

Paul argued, “As of noon last Wednesday, Donald Trump holds none of the positions listed in the Constitution. He is a private citizen. The presiding officer is not the Chief Justice, nor does he claim to be. His presence in the chief justice’s absence demonstrates that this is not a trial of the president, but a private citizen.” 

Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz said, “The Constitution is very clear. The subject, the object, the purpose of impeachment is to remove a sitting president. And there are two precedents. One is very obvious…There is no jurisdiction. You cannot put citizen Trump on trial. If you could do that, it would be a bill of attainder, number one, putting somebody on trial who was not a sitting president.” 

The implications of impeaching and convicting a private citizen is staggering, which is why there is no Constitutional authority to do so. If it were possible, any majority party could eliminate opposition candidates from running for office. 

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called no witnesses, presented no evidence, and permitted no defense. This is right out of the playbook for a repressive regime. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Impeaching a private citizen is unconstitutional. This unconstitutional act is made worse by having a partisan Democrat preside over the trial instead of the Chief Justice. The entire process is a model for a banana republic or some repressive regime, not the United States of America. This is a mockery of the rule of law.” 

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