The American Impeachment Institution
The Watergate scandal in the United States introduced a new word—impeachment—to us. The newsmedia supplied us daily with information concerning the progress of the impeachment investigation of President Nixon. It also tried to explain what impeachment was and how the proceeding worked.
Impeachment was nothing new, invented by Congress, in order to remove Nixon from office. It was designed in 1787 when the Constitution of the United States was drafted. This paper will try to briefly explain the background to why and how impeachment became an institution in American government. It does not attempt to be a complete analysis or answer all the questions involved, but merely to point out some of the problems intrying to decide the concept of impeachment. It is primarily concerned with the Presidency and does not take into account impeachment as a"tool" of removing federal judges, which it has mostly been used for.
The House Judiciary Committee did in fact recommend the impeachment of President Nixon. As a result of his resignation, however, the House never impeached, and some of the questions about this institution still remain unanswered.
One of the characteristics that distinguish the governmental system of the United States from other governments is its separation of powers. In contrast to the English system—in which the ultimate power is in the hands of the Parliament—the American constitution promotes a balanced system of three different branches, where no single branch can have the absolute power.1 This division of power was mainly a reaction against the English power struggle over sovereignty between the King and the Parliament. The system was viewed as the best to protect the country from any kind of dictatorship.
The executive branch2, or better known as the Presidency, is an office held for four years by one single person. The branch is independent in that it does not have to be in political harmony with the legislative body. The principle of separation of powers precludes any member of the executive department from having a seat in the legislature. The President appoints3 his cabinet members and other high officers in various departments and agencies. He also appoints the judges of the Supreme Court. The Presi-