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Civil Rights & Civic Action

Political resources for students, staff, and faculty

Making Sense of the News: Impeachment

What is impeachment?

Impeachment is the first stage of the process by which a United States federal official - including the President - can be removed from office.

The Constitution allows for impeachment for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

In order to impeach a federal official, a majority of the House Judiciary committee votes to refer articles of impeachment to the House floor, where a majority of all Representatives vote to impeach. The vote on whether to actually remove the official from office is held after a trial by the Senate, and must pass the Senate with a two-thirds majority.

Who has been impeached?

No President has ever been removed from office.

Two Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and William Clinton in 1998. Johnson was impeached for firing a cabinet member who had been approved by the Senate.  Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about an extramarital affair. In both cases, the Senate voted against removing the President from office.

Richard Nixon was never actually impeached - he resigned in 1974 after the House Judiciary Committee referred the articles of impeachment to the House, but before the House as a whole could vote.

Seventeen other U.S. federal officials have been impeached, but only eight people - all of them federal judges - have been removed from office.

How can I advocate in favor of or against impeachment?

Call the office of your Representative, and explain that you are a constituent.  Give your name and address, and state your position on impeachment and a one or two sentence summary of the reasons that support it.  

What happens if the President is removed from office?

The Vice-President becomes the President.  

For more information, see Gerhardt, M. (2010). Impeachment. In Kazin, M., Edwards, R., & Rothman, A. (Eds.), The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History (414-418). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Making Sense of the News: Executive Orders

What is an executive order?

First, let’s back up for a simple refresher on American civics.
The United States federal government has three branches: the legislative, the judicial, and the executive.  The legislative branch is Congress, made up of the House and Senate, and it makes the laws.  The judicial is the court system, and it interprets the laws. The executive is the Presidency and the bureaucracy, and it implements the laws.

An executive order is a rule from the President about precisely how the bureaucracy must do their jobs to implement a law.

For example, in 1997, President Clinton issued an executive order requiring that federal employees wear seatbelts whenever they drive on official government business.  The executive order told government workers something they had to do as part of their job, based on the authority of the Highway Safety Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Every U.S. President has issued executive orders, and they have had a wide range of positions and purposes.  To give two famous examples, the policy of internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was an executive order, but so was the racial integration of the U.S. military.

What executive orders have been issued?

Recent executive orders are posted on the website of the White House.  

An archive of past executive orders, dating back to 1826, is available from The American Presidency Project of the University of California Santa Barbara

How can I advocate in favor of an executive order?

Write a letter or postcard to President Donald Trump, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC 20500, or submit a comment online

How can I oppose an executive order?

Executive orders can by stopped by any of the three branches of government.

The federal courts can rule that an executive order is invalid either because it is not properly based on a law passed by Congress, or because it is inherently unconstitutional (if, for example, it violates the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection.)

Citizens who are directly harmed by an executive order can sue and ask the court to prevent implementation of the order. Federal courts can also sometimes be influenced by amicus curiae, or “friend of the court”, briefs.  Amicus briefs are legal arguments written by lawyers for particularly relevant interest groups in an attempt to persuade the Justices of the Supreme Court to write opinions favorable to those groups.  

Congress can also prevent executive orders from taking effect, by directly repealing the order, blocking funding to implement it, or by changing the law that delegated that specific authority to the President and the bureaucracy.* You don’t need to be a legal scholar or directly affected by the law to lobby Congress.  Telephone your Senators and Representative, or, better yet, visit their office in person with a group of like-minded constituents.

Executive orders can also be reversed or changed by the President, regardless of whether they were originally issued by the current administration or by a predecessor. Write a letter or postcard to President Donald Trump, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC 20500, osubmit a comment online to express your opinion.  

What happens if the President or the bureaucracy continues to try to implement an order the judiciary has found unconstitutional?

No one is sure.  


For more information, see the 2014 Congressional Research Service report “Executive Orders: Issuance, Modification, and Revocation.”

*This is true unless the executive order relies on the powers directly invested in the Presidency by the Constitution.

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