The Volokh Conspiracy

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When is Impeachment a "Vain Exercise"?

Does it ever make sense to impeach in the House if conviction in the Senate is unlikely?


Since we seem to be talking about whether the Democrats in the House should just do it and be legends, I have a new post over at Lawfare on the purposes of the impeachment power and how those purposes relate to the prospects of winning a guilty verdict in a Senate trial. I take no position on whether or not the House should impeach President Trump, but if the Democrats are going to do it they should at least think through what they hope to accomplish, besides pleasing Tom Steyer.

From the piece:

On the other hand, if the point of an impeachment effort is less to remove a particular individual from office than to establish or reinforce the proper expectations of officeholding, then the ultimate fate of the impeached officer is of less importance than the message sent by the impeachment. Impeachments can be, and have been, a vehicle for constructing, consolidating and reinforcing an important set of constitutional norms. They are a means for asserting that some behavior is beyond the pale. An impeachment can send the strongest possible message that some behavior is to be condemned and should not be imitated by others—that even though a high government official has engaged in some behavior, this behavior should be understood as disgraceful rather than exemplary.

Read the whole thing here.