Teaching Presidential Impeachment

Jean A. Luckowski and James J. Lopach

In 1998, the U. S. House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment against William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States. The articles of impeachment accused him of violating his constitutional oath and duties by committing perjury and obstructing justice. In 1999, the United States Senate voted to acquit President Clinton after a trial. He thus became the second president to be impeached and acquitted in our nation’s history.

A deluge of words has accompanied this historic event. In addition to being so profusely talked about and analyzled, the Clinton impeachment and trial will probably turn out to be the most partisan political event of the era. Rarely have Democrats and Republicans lined up so vehemently and rigidly on opposite sides of an issue. The stakes involved, the presence of so much controversial information and opinion (including the interpretations of legal scholars), and the narrow partisanship, all raise a host of questions related to teaching about impeachment of this or any president.

Should teachers focus only on technical and less controversial matters, such as clarifying the difference between the House’s impeachment of a president and the Senate’s trial of a president? Should they stay close to the United States Constitution, emphasizing each actor’s formal duties and the principle of separation of powers? Should teachers take advantage of the opportunity to stir up student interest in government by turning them loose on the titillating details of Kenneth Starr’s report and the arguments in Congress? Should they encourage students to participate in the partisan debate (“This is just about sex” or “The President is not fit to be our leader”)? Should teachers simulate the actions of the House and the Senate and ask students how they would vote on impeachment and removal of President Clinton? Should they suggest that students rely primarily on more traditional news sources or urge them to use more ideologically-oriented publications?

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing social studies teachers in relation to impeachment is how to help students develop an appreciation of the framers’ constitutional wisdom and an informed skepticism about government, while avoiding cynicism and its corrosion of civic values. The literature on issues-centered curricula suggests the correct approach. It emphasizes inclusion of conflict and controversy, and steers away from exclusive focus on the structures and processes of government. It urges teachers to include in civic education differences of viewpoint, ambiguities in legal documents, the clash of power sources, the process of building consensus, and an appreciation of legal norms. An issues-centered curriculum allows students to discover key political values, reflect on their possible meanings, and practice them in the face of opposition.1

By using an issues-centered approach to teaching impeachment, teachers would help students to focus on the historical and constitutional context and avoid the more salacious details of the Clinton scandal. An issue-centered approach would prevent the study of impeachment from lapsing into excessive partisanship, as much as students might want that to occur. Impeachment grounded in partisanship, warns Chief Justice William Rehnquist in Grand Inquests, his chronicle of two failed 19th century impeachments, runs the risk of becoming an exaggerated struggle between political ideologies that could seriously weaken the presidency and judiciary.2

The basis for students’ work on impeachment should be the relevant documents. The provisions of the U.S. Constitution governing impeachment and trial, the Articles of Impeachment passed by the House, and the Senators’ oath for the impeachment trial would help students keep their focus on principles. Secondary sources would provide students with challenging and provocative views from a range of political perspectives. This pedagogical approach, illustrated in the lesson plan that follows, would help students understand the institutional niceties of presidential impeachment and trial, and develop the civic values of respect, hope, empathy, and skepticism that are so fundamental to participatory citizenship.3

 

Notes

1. Patricia G. Avery, John L. Sullivan, Elizabeth S. Smith and Stephen Sandell, “Issues-Centered Approaches to Teaching Civics and Government,” Handbook on Teaching Social Issues (Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies, 1996), 199-210.

2. William H. Rehnquist, Grand Inquests (New York: William Morrow & Co, 1993).

3. Deborah Meier, The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).

 

Jean A. Luckowski is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Montana, Missoula. James J. Lopach is a professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Montana.

 

Teaching Plan: A Debate on Impeachment

 

Objectives

Students will use primary and secondary sources and engage in a structured classroom debate in order to:

> recognize to what degree the United States Constitution informs and guides the branches of the federal government regarding impeachment and trial of the President

> recognize that members of Congress—not just the Supreme Court—must interpret the Constitution and fill in its gaps and resolve its ambiguities

> identify principles of American government (e.g., rule of law, consent of the governed, national welfare, open proceedings, separation of powers) that should be central to the impeachment of a President

> analyze a legal/political controversy from an objective perspective

> enhance skills of identifying, describing, and evaluating different points of view

> practice civic discussion to develop the values of respect, collegiality, and fair process

 

Activity: Structured Debate

1. The class should be divided into five groups (by random draw or student choice) to argue one of the following resolutions:

 

Resolved, That in defining “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the House of Representatives and the Senate shall give these words the original meaning they possessed in 1787.

 

Resolved, That in trying the President of the United States, the members of the United States Senate shall determine their votes based upon the will of their constituents.

 

Resolved, That in carrying out their respective roles regarding presidential impeachment and removal, the House of Representatives and the Senate shall prefer rule of law over consent of the governed among the nation’s constitutional values.

 

Resolved, That in defending the President in an impeachment proceeding, the White House shall use its congressional lobbying and public relations capabilities no less than they would be employed in a major public policy effort.

 

Resolved, That in explaining each Senator’s final vote on removal, the Senate shall conduct itself in open proceedings.

 

2. Students in each of the five groups will clarify their understanding of the specific resolution they will argue. Some questions to help organize their preparation for debate include: How is the United States Constitution involved? How is the principle of separation of powers specifically implicated? Would the historical record of President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment help? How would partisan Democrats and Republicans view this debate resolution? How would independent citizens argue for and against this debate resolution? What news sources would suggest pro and con arguments regarding this resolution? Would recent opinion polls help? What additional information do we need?

3. The teacher should work with each group to review the students’ understanding of their debate resolution and to suggest sources for additional information. At this point, the teacher can assign, or students can choose, who will argue the pro and con positions. Delaying the pro or con assignments until this point will help students gain a fuller understanding of their debate resolution.

4. Each group then divides into two teams, one for and one against the resolution. Each team prepares separately for debate by researching and organizing their arguments (see “Suggested News Sources” below). Each team prepares a written draft of its arguments, with citation of sources, for teacher review.

5. A debate is held between the pro and con teams of each group, with the rest of the class acting as judges and the teacher serving as moderator. Prior to the first debate, the teacher presents the procedural rules, e.g., each group member will speak once before any student speaks a second time, group members select one speaker to present their side’s position, debate on each resolution is limited to thirty minutes, interruption of the speaker is prohibited unless time is up, and majority vote of the judges will determine which side wins. A suggested structure for debate is:

> Statement of arguments by Pro

> Statement of arguments by Con

> Questions of Pro, by Con

> Questions of Con, by Pro

> Pro and Con caucuses to prepare summaries

> Summary, by Con

> Summary, by Pro

> Vote by judges based on which side offered the most persuasive arguments

6. Following the debate on the fifth resolution, a class discussion could consider the relative importance of the following principles in the context of impeachment, trial, and acquittal of President Clinton: framers’ intent, separation of powers, consent of the governed through elections, rule of law, governmental stability and effectiveness, public opinion, party loyalty, and presidential leadership.

 

Lesson Evaluation

> Written arguments used during debates (e.g., understanding of constitutional principles)

> Oral presentations in debate (e.g., evidence of non-partisan analysis)

> Discussion following debate (e.g., respect for multiple perspectives)

> Performance on test items (e.g., implications of presidential impeachment for separation of powers or representative democracy)

 

Suggested News Sources

Associated Press (AP) Cable News Network (CNN)

Nation The National Review

The New Republic “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer”

Newsweek The New York Times

Time The Washington Post

The Washington Times The Weekly Standard

 

 

Selected Documents

 

United States Constitution, Article I

Section 2 [5]. The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Section 3 [6]. The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.

Section 3 [7]. Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust, or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment, and Punishment, according to Law.

 

United States Constitution, Article II

Section 1[8]. Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Section 3. He shal#133; take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the officers of the United States.

Section 4. The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

 

First Article of Impeachment

In his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has willfully corrupted and manipulated the judicial process of the United States for his personal gain and exoneration, impeding the administration of justice, in that:

On August 17, 1998, William Jefferson Clinton swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth before a Federal grand jury of the United States. Contrary to that oath, William Jefferson Clinton willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury concerning one or more of the following: (1) the nature and details of his relationship with a subordinate Government employee; (2) prior perjurious, false and misleading testimony he gave in a Federal civil rights action brought against him; (3) prior false and misleading statements he allowed his attorney to make to a Federal judge in that civil rights action; and (4) his corrupt efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses and to impede the discovery of evidence in that civil rights action.

In doing this, William Jefferson Clinton has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the Presidency, has betrayed his trust as President, and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.

 

Second Article of Impeachment

In his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, and has to that end engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up, and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony related to a Federal civil rights action brought against him in a duly instituted judicial proceeding.

The means used to implement this course of conduct or scheme included one or more of the following acts:

(1) On or about December 17, 1997, William Jefferson Clinton corruptly encouraged a witness in a Federal civil rights action brought against him to execute a sworn affidavit in that proceeding that he knew to be perjurious, false and misleading.

(2) On or about December 17, 1997, William Jefferson Clinton corruptly encouraged a witness in a Federal civil rights action brought against him to give perjurious, false and misleading testimony if and when called to testify personally in that proceeding.

(3) On or about December 28, 1997, William Jefferson Clinton corruptly engaged in, encouraged, or supported a scheme to conceal evidence that had been subpoenaed in a Federal civil rights action brought against him.

(4) Beginning on or about December 7, 1997, and continuing through and including January 14, 1998, William Jefferson Clinton intensified and succeeded in an effort to secure job assistance to a witness in a Federal civil rights action brought against him in order to corruptly prevent the truthful testimony of that witness in that proceeding at a time when the truthful testimony of that witness would have been harmful to him.

(5) On January 17, 1998, at his deposition in a Federal civil rights action brought against him, William Jefferson Clinton corruptly allowed his attorney to make false and misleading statements to a Federal judge characterizing an affidavit, in order to prevent questioning deemed relevant by the judge. Such false and misleading statements were subsequently acknowledged by his attorney in a communication to that judge.

(6) On or about January 18 and January 20-21, 1998, William Jefferson Clinton related a false and misleading account of events relevant to a Federal civil rights action brought against him to a potential witness in that proceeding, in order to corruptly influence the testimony of that witness.

(7) On or about January 21, 23 and 26, 1998, William Jefferson Clinton made false and misleading statements to potential witnesses in a Federal grand jury proceeding in order to corruptly influence the testimony of those witnesses. The false and misleading statements made by William Jefferson Clinton were repeated by the witnesses to the grand jury, causing the grand jury to receive false and misleading information.

In all of this, William Jefferson Clinton has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the Presidency, has betrayed his trust as President, and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.

 

Senators’ Oath for Impeachment Trial

“Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help you God.”

©1999 National Council for the Social Studies. All rights reserved.