With news of the Mueller report stoking lawmakers and the public into a frenzy over the potential impeachment vote and proceedings of President Donald Trump, a deluge of headlines is being made over Trump’s tweeted claim that if lawmakers try to impeach him, he’d head to the Supreme Court.
The headlines and stories about Trump’s tweet mostly focus on the fact that the Supreme Court does not handle impeachment proceedings and couldn’t actually do anything to stop congress from proceeding. Read on to find out why.
How Does Impeachment Work?
Simply stated, the impeachment process does not involve the Supreme Court, and that’s by design. Furthermore, strengthen this point, over two decades ago, the Supreme Court decided that impeachment proceedings were “political questions” which courts leave to the legislature to address. That’s part of the separation of powers doctrine, where each branch of government has jurisdiction, or authority, over particular matters of governance.
Generally, impeachment starts in the House of Representatives, and if the House votes to impeach, the President gets put on trial by the Senate, and the Senate votes at the conclusion of the trial. There are no appeals to the Supreme Court as presidential impeachment is exclusively the domain of the Congress.
This process is part of the nation’s system of checks and balances, where the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government hold each other accountable in a rock, paper, scissors, sort-of-way. And in this system, Supreme Court Justices would have a difficult time appearing impartial in anything impeachment related given that Court appointments are made by the president.
In President Trump’s hypothetical case before the Supreme Court, he could face the Supreme Court of his worst nightmare. Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh would be likely to recuse themselves from hearing his case due to the conflict created by having been appointed by President Trump, leaving the High Court with a liberal four-Justice majority.