I teach American Government every semester, and so I read and reread the U.S. Constitution about every six months. It is the foundation of American government.
I have been preoccupied in my reading with the Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10) and the Reconstruction amendments (13th, 14th and 15th) because they, together, provide fundamental rights to American citizens.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was asked to deliver a speech in 1987 to celebrate the Constitution’s bicentennial. He seemed reluctant to accept. So, instead of celebrating 200 years of the document, his May 1987 speech celebrated the changes that expanded the Constitution and provided protections to women, blacks and other minorities — the Civil War, the Reconstruction and 19th amendments, and the civil rights movement.
But the current presidential administration has made me aware that the original Constitution — the one created at the founding, especially the first three Articles, which establish the national government and outline its powers and limitations—might be more important.
Without a working government structure, it impossible to protect anyone’s rights.
Thankfully, the original Constitution includes stopgaps and protections designed to ensure that we maintain a working government — including, importantly, the impeachment provisions. The Constitution gives Congress the ability to “impeach and remove” the president, vice president and all civil officers of the United States upon a determination that such officers have engaged in “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
I think that Congress should impeach the president pursuant to its powers under Article I, Section 3.
Though it is highly unlikely that the Republican-dominated Senate will remove the president once he is impeached, I think it is still important that articles be filed and that anti-constitutional speech and behavior of the presidential administration be officially recorded, as part of a larger effort to preserve a working government.
Supreme Court justices, for example, have the power to write dissenting opinions because they disagree with the majority’s interpretation of the law. Sometimes dissenting opinions, because they are recorded, later become the law.
The president took an oath and agreed to abide by and respect the Constitution. From my perspective, not only is he obligated to account for “high crimes and misdemeanors” but also for behavior that is offensive to our government’s operation and its people.
The president shouldn’t be withholding aid to foreign governments to buy investigation of political opponents or their family members, or promoting foreign interference in American elections.
The commander-in-chief should not benefit financially from the office at home or abroad.
Furthermore, the president should not demean or abuse women, race-bait, abuse the media, use rude or indiscriminate speech, promote voter suppression or encourage his staff to ignore subpoenas from Congress during his impeachment inquiry.
Ultimately, “the purpose of impeachment is not personal punishment,” as a congressional committee stated in 1974, it’s designed to ensure the longevity of Constitutional government.
From my reading of the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the U.S. House to file articles of impeachment. Their job is to oversee the operations of the national government. If they don’t impeach, the arguable transgressions of the president will continue unchecked and unrecorded. It could be argued later that nothing the current administration has done is unconstitutional.
Marshall attributed the improved state of the Constitution to “those who refused to acquiesce to outdated notions of ‘liberty,’ ‘justice,’ and ‘equality …’”
Today, we need to be those people, not just to maintain the improvements, but to ensure the sanctity of the original document and the presidential office. We can contribute by supporting the impeachment process and by voting.