The recent impeachment of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has many people wondering what “impeachment” really means. In what the LA Times is calling “an expected move,” Illinois state legislators voted today 114 to 1 to impeach the embattled governor. The next step is a trial in the Illinois Senate.
But, what does it all mean? Impeachment is the first step in a formalized two-step process by which elected officials are removed from office by their fellow elected officials for legal reasons related to misconduct in office. Sometimes people use the term “impeachment” to refer to the entire process, although that isn’t a fully correct usage of the term. Impeachment shouldn’t be confused with recall, which is the process by which elected officials are removed from office by the voters for political reasons. A fairly recent example of recall is the California recall of Governor Gray Davis, which resulted in Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected governor.
Impeachment is technically the formal bringing of charges against an elected official, similar to the indictment by a grand jury in a criminal trial. In the case of a presidential impeachment, the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment. That is, the House has the responsibility to investigate the alleged misconduct and formally bring charges. The Senate then has the responsibility to try the president on the charges brought by the House. If the Senate convicts on any one article of impeachment (charge against the president), then the president is immediately removed from office.
Impeachment and trial of state elected officials will follow the procedures set out in the governing documents of that state, but the general process tends to be fairly consistent with the federal process detailed in the U.S. Constitution. The process in Illinois is governed by the Illinois Constitution, which states:
Section 14. Impeachment
The House of Representatives has the sole power to conduct legislative investigations to determine the existence of cause for impeachment and, by the vote of a majority of the members elected, to impeach Executive and Judicial officers. Impeachments shall be tried by the Senate. When sitting for that purpose, Senators shall be upon oath, or affirmation, to do justice according to law. If the Governor is tried, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senators elected. Judgment shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold any public office of this State. An impeached officer, whether convicted or acquitted, shall be liable to prosecution, trial, judgment and punishment according to law.
(Source: Illinois Constitution.)
Now that Governor Blagojevich has been impeached according to the requirements of the Illinois Constitution, the next step will be a Senate trial.