The Impeachment Process: How Does It Work?

American justice
The scales of justice are a symbol for fairness. They show that decisions in a trial are based on evidence. How do lawmakers make decisions in the impeachment process?

On September 24, 2019, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. An impeachment inquiry investigates if the President committed a crime. It could lead to the President being impeached, convicted, and removed from office. How does the impeachment process work?

The Constitution of the United States outlines a process for removing a president, vice president, or other government official (such as a judge) from office after being convicted of “high crimes and misdemeanors” such as treason [betraying your own country] or bribery [giving someone a gift to get them to do what you want]. The U.S. House of Representatives has the power to impeach, or bring charges, against an official. Members of the House interview people and look for evidence. They examine the evidence and decide whether or not to impeach, or bring charges.

The next step is in the U.S. Senate. The Senate holds a trial. The Chief Justice of the United States leads the trial. The Senate votes whether or not to convict [declare that someone is guilty of a crime] the President. If two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict, the President is removed from office. A person who is convicted in an impeachment cannot hold another elected office in the United States.

Oher presidents have been investigated. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was tried but not convicted. In 1974, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Richard Nixon, but he resigned [gave up the job] before Senate voted on the charges. Finally, President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1999 by the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, did not obtain the two-thirds vote to convict him. He stayed in office.

The question of whether to impeach is a difficult one! The crimes may not be clear. Sometimes, lawmakers vote based on political party. The writers of the Constitution wanted to make the process fair. They made sure that both houses of the legislative branch and the head of the judicial branch were part of the process.

What Do You Think? The people who wrote the Constitution wanted to make a fair process for impeachment. What do you think of the process? What makes it fair—or unfair?

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