News Hits was feeling even denser than usual last week when we heard it was possible that impeachment proceedings could get a jump start by having just one state legislature pass a resolution calling for Congress to take up the issue.
Could we have so thoroughly snoozed through our high school civics classes? Well, sure. But it turns out that even those in the know didn’t know. The provision isn’t in the Constitution, but rather in something called the “Jefferson Manual,” which an Associated Press report describes as “a book of parliamentary philosophy and procedural guidelines” written by founding pappy Thomas Jefferson and used as a supplement to the official U.S. House rules.
One section of that manual states that impeachment can be launched “by charges transmitted from the legislature of a state.”
News Hits felt a little less ignorant when noted lefty attorney Hugh Davis, whose firm is called Constitutional Litigation Associates, told us that he’d never heard of the provision either until earlier this year.
“It was a revelation to most people, including me,” says Davis. “A very smart and progressive legislator in Illinois discovered it.”
At this point News Hits should interject a lesson still vaguely retained from one of those high school civics classes. It’s been our experience over the years that a lot of folks mistakenly believe that the term “impeachment” means removing a president (or other federal official such as a judge) from office. In reality, impeachment means that the House of Representatives has voted to authorize the Senate to conduct what is essentially a trial. Bill Clinton was impeached. But the Senate failed to muster enough votes to oust him.
The Clinton debacle also imparted a lesson that failed to get passed along to us back in the tenth grade: Impeachment is at least as much about politics as it is about committing any “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Clinton got impeached not because lying under oath about getting a blow job really deserved his removal from office, but because the GOP controlled both houses of Congress. The right wing had the power, and was cutthroat enough to misuse it. Bush, on the other hand, might very well be found guilty of doing some serious damage to the Constitution, but while his party rules Capitol Hill there’s virtually no chance he’ll be held accountable. It would take a meltdown of Nixonian proportions for that to occur. But, as Davis points out, there are still two more years remaining for the Bush presidency, and the potential for things to go Chernobyl is there.
What the Jefferson Manual indicates is that a state legislature could, in essence, ask the U.S. House to begin impeachment proceedings. Such measures are currently pending in three states. But there’s little hope that a House controlled by Republicans would take any serious action if any of those resolutions passes. The matter could go to, say, the House Judiciary Committee, where it might well languish until Bush’s ordained term in office expires.
So, we asked Davis, why bother?
He had a lot of reasons, the most compelling of which has to do with what we’ll call banging the drum. By getting legislatures and city councils and county commissions as well to consider resolutions calling for the impeachment of the president, the issue will continue to be pounded into the public’s consciousness.
“At the very least,” says Davis, “the legitimacy of the Bush administration would be debated on cable TV and attract the attention of local newspapers.”
And therein lies the beauty of what the National Lawyers Guild is trying to do. The NLG and others Detroit Rep. John Conyers chief among them are hard at work laying the legal foundation justifying Bush’s forced exit from the Oval Office. Forget about getting hummers from an intern. We’re talking warrantless spying and illegal detentions and torture and lying us into war. It’s a list that keeps on expanding.
“The number of bases you can attack from a legal perspective is breathtaking,” says Davis.
It’s so sweeping that the New York City-based nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights has written an entire book on the subject called Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush. (Check out the Web site at ccr-ny.org for more info.)
But while the experts are laying the legal groundwork to justify impeachment, it’s up to the citizenry to create the political atmosphere that would make it happen. To quote Davis, “I can supply the matches and gasoline, but I can’t get the prairie fire going.”
Which is why the Sugar Law Center and others are promoting a do-it-yourself approach intended to get drums beating across the land. Go to the Web site michigannlg.org and you’ll find a copy of a resolution that can be downloaded and submitted to your local city council or county board of commissioners. To tap into what’s going on nationally, visit impeachbush.org.
So join the percussion section and start slapping those tom-toms. Like they kinda used to say back in the old days, “Either you’re part of the band, or you’re part of the problem.”
Or, as Davis says, “All we can do is keep resisting on every front.”News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com