Pi Sigma Alpha welcomes two scholars for a presidential lecture

On March 26, the Political Science Honor Society, Pi Sigma Alpha hosted two guest speakers. Dr. Scott R. Meinke, professor of political science at Bucknell University, and Dr. Michael Dimino, professor of law at Widener University Commonwealth Law School, presented about the legal and political checks on our President and other members of the government.

Dimino’s presentation focused on three topics: an introduction to what impeachment is, the meaning of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and the judiciary’s role in impeachment.

Dimino began by expressing that impeachment itself is a process used in the House of Representatives and is the equivalent of an indictment.

However, he explained that impeachment is not a criminal proceeding, it is a way to remove the President and any civil officer.

This means that a president must first be impeached before being tried under criminal charges.

After talking about how impeachment works Dimino moved on to discuss the charge of high crimes and misdemeanors and what it means. In a sense, he explained that high crimes and misdemeanors can be whatever the courts or the House of Representatives decides it to be in terms of political reality, but that such a flimsy definition is not acceptable from a constitutional standing.

The charge “high crimes and misdemeanors” was taken from English law where misdemeanors did not mean a criminal offense but instead held a different meaning.

“Misdemeanors meant, in English Law, as a term of art that means political offenses against the community and the state as a whole,” Dimino said. “We know this both from English and American practice where officials have been impeached for conduct that was not criminal but did reflect poorly on their offices.”

“For example in 1804, a federal judge was impeached but was not guilty of treason or bribery, but was impeached for being drunk on the bench and demonstrated unfitness for office.”

This definition of high crimes and misdemeanors serves as a limitation on impeachment.

Other impeachable charges include corruption, misapplication of funds, abuse of official power in an unlawful way, and encroaching on the power of the legislation.

In terms of the judiciary’s role in impeachment, the Supreme Court has stated that the House and Senate have the sole power over impeachment.

Dimino then passed the presentation off to Meinke who discussed what influences congressional members’ decisions, the impact impeachment can carry, and the tools Congress has aside from impeachment to keep checks on the President.

Meinke began by discussing that congressional members are influenced by whether they are up for reelection. He spoke about how a reelection can shape how and when Congress checks the President and that the party in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate plays a crucial role as well. Meinke expressed that a current reality we have to face in our political climate is that partisanship and party competition play a crucial role in how our congressional members act.

Next Meinke talked about the three presidents who underwent the impeachment process: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

Johnson’s case showcases how large of a role partisanship plays in Congress. Johnson was primarily impeached due to disagreements with his actions despite none of them being direct actions against the United States.

Before talking about the impact of the attempt to impeach Bill Clinton, Meinke explained Richard Pious’ Popular Law of Impeachment. Pious’ law states that Congress will often refer to the findings in public opinion polls about the grounds for which a president should be impeached or removed from office.

Clinton’s case expresses how important impeachment is and how it should be used carefully or it may have the opposite effect.

“There are some lessons from the Clinton case and some cautions for those who might think about impeachment focused on short term political gain. In the case of Bill Clinton, the attempt to impeach Bill Clinton resulted in a backfire on Republicans and resulted in Republicans losing seats in the House of Representatives, and Bill Clinton’s approval rating reached its highest point during the attempt to impeach him. So the attempt to impeach Bill Clinton was countered by the Popular Law of Impeachment as Congress did not have the public support,” said Meinke.

Finally, Meinke talked about the actions Congress can use to keep the president in check without using impeachment. Congress can limit presidential authority, undo presidential actions, have some control over the president’s funds, and take public positions opposing what the president does.

Recently the House and Senate have disapproved of President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. They have made a unanimous call for the release of the Mueller Report in full, and Congress has taken action to attempt to educate the American people about crucial issues by inviting the NATO Secretary General to speak before a joint session of Congress.

Donald Ballou, freshman international relations major shared his thought on the lecture as a whole.

“I didn’t know much about it going in, but to learn that impeachment did not, and could not, involve criminal punishments, and could only result in removal of office and prevention of holding office again was very interesting to me,” said Ballou.

“I thought the entire presentation was very interesting, and it really surprised me to know the technicalities of impeachment,” he said.