BookMark: ‘To End a Presidency’

Book review: Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz’s book explores history of Impeachment

A lifelong reader and learner, Mark Brennan will review one nonfiction book each month in BookMark, a new feature of the Siuslaw News.

Nov. 16, 2019 — Last week, the United States Congress began an official Impeachment Inquiry for only the fourth time in the Republic’s 243-year history. A recently released book, “To End a Presidency,” written by legal scholar Professor Laurence Tribe and Constitutional lawyer Joshua Matz, examines previous calls for an inquiry of the actions of a sitting President and the results and later ramifications of those inquiries.

“To End a Presidency” is professionally researched, well-sourced and points out that only two Impeachment Inquiries in our history have resulted in Articles of Impeachment.

Andrew Johnson was Impeached on March 2, 1868, and, more than a century later on Dec. 12, 1998, Bill Clinton met the same fate. In both cases, they were acquitted of the charges and remained in office.

The House of Representatives began hearing public testimony last Wednesday from high pro-file witnesses testifying to alleged improper acts committed by President Donald Trump.

The outcome of the public hearings may result in Articles of Impeachment being forwarded to the U.S. Senate for action. Tribe and Matz review the historical circumstances and strategic decisions made by those pushing for impeachment as well as the individual facing it: President Trump.

If the House of Representatives drafts Articles of Impeachment, a trial of the President will take place within the Senate and be overseen by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. This trial, which most likely would occur live, could result in the President’s acquittal or removal from office.

The call for Impeachment is made more guardedly now than in the past. Prior to the civil war, federal legislators called for the Impeachment and removal of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. This changed after the Civil War and impeachment receded as a tool of opposition.

There is a history — albeit limited — in earlier Impeachment Inquiries that serve as partial templates for both the House and the Senate. But unlike the past, many of the details of the current inquiry will be conveyed through the lens of a 24-hour news cycle while under intense partisan pressure.

Tribe and Matz’s book is particularly timely as there are several actions taken by President Trump which have caused concern among House Members — primarily from the Democratic side of the political aisle — resulting in this rare impeachment inquiry.

These actions include questionable conversations with world leaders and allegations of refusals to recognize congressional oversight responsibilities by actively obstructing the House’s inquiry into potentially illegal acts.

Tribe and Matz provide interesting historical context for the separation of impeachment into actions by the House and the Senate. Because members of the House must return to the voters every two years to be re-elected, this connects them most directly with the voters. This ultimately led to a separation of the impeachment function into two houses: one in charge of the inquiry and collection of evidence (The House) and one to carry out the trial (The Senate) to examine the evidence and vote on a verdict.

Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at the Harvard Law School at Harvard University and one of America’s most experienced and well-regarded legal minds. He is often called upon by lawmakers and news agencies to supply legal analysis on Constitution-related issues of all sorts.

He has been a tenured professor at Harvard since 1972 and his students and research assistants have included former President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice nominee Merrick Garland Justice and Elena Kagen, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Tribe and his co-author, Constitutional lawyer Joshua Matz, have taken all the previous impeachment inquiries and examined the overall logistics of the process, in addition to the underlying motivations for specific inquiries. Their observations and analysis make for a remarkably interesting history lesson

Professor Tribe has argued 36 cases before the Supreme Court and has been lead council before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on 26 occasions — making him  uniquely qualified to comment on not only the history of impeachment, but also what form that process will likely take under current circumstances.

Tribe and Matz set the stage for their analysis by examining letters written by The Framers as they debated whether to include an impeachment clause in the U.S. Constitution and what form the process of removing a sitting President should take.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states: “The President, Vice President and all civic Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The need for interpretation of the phrase High Crimes and Misdemeanors is often at the center of any impeachment discussion and Tribe provides numerous examples, from both a legal and historical perspective, of the meaning of the phrase.

Even more interesting is his assessment of both sides in the current controversy surrounding President Trump and whether he has committed acts that fulfill these historical precedents. Tribe and Matz’s book is currently available at the Siuslaw Public Library and is essential reading for anyone interested in the historical record  of Impeachment under the current political discussion.


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