Missouri Law Review
Mo. L. Rev.
This Article rejects the common view of the two Trump impeachments as a constitutional debacle. It asserts, instead, that the federal impeachment process retains significant vitality as a mechanism for holding presidents accountable for misconduct in office. If we take a step back from the tiny set of presidential impeachment trials in American history and adopt a more panoramic view of their effects and connections to other disciplinary mechanisms for presidential misconduct, it is easier to see that presidential impeachments still have bite. In fact, they can and do cripple legacies and reputations, create permanent evidentiary records of presidential misconduct, and deter some, if not the most, egregious kinds of presidential misconduct. In the aftermath of Trump’s second impeachment, state officials, too, played instrumental roles in curbing his efforts to undermine the integrity of the electoral process and to commit voter fraud. In this manner, states provided a check on the president’s overreaching.
Part II sets forth the surprisingly strong case against impeachment’s effectiveness in holding presidents accountable for their misconduct in office, a view that I sometimes have had myself. Nonetheless, Part III both dissects that case and shows how the two impeachments of Donald Trump damaged his legacy, reputation, and power. Public opinion is not an insignificant deterrent of presidential mischief, and the two impeachments of Donald Trump took their toll in his defeat in his reelection bid. Part IV examines the extensive lawyerly misconduct in the two Trump impeachments. Lastly, in Part V, I consider some modest reforms that may help to ensure that presidential impeachment trials are constitutionally meaningful events, even when they result in the acquittal of the president.