We, as professors who specialize in constitutional law, write to urge you and your colleagues not to approve the fast-tracked resolution to impeach John Koskinen, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.
When it comes to impeachment, the Constitution leaves many open and difficult questions. Whether the alleged conduct of John Koskinen is impeachable is not one of them. There is simply no credible case for impeachment.
The Constitution is designed to reserve the impeachment and removal from office for conduct that inflicts the most serious harms on society and that critically compromises the ability of an officer to govern. The Constitution limits the availability of impeachment in two ways. First, the Constitution provides a very limited definition of the scope of impeachment. Second, the Constitution erects significant procedural protections against impeachment and removal from office.
I. The Constitution defines the scope of the impeachment power narrowly.
An officer is subject to impeachment and removal from office only on the grounds of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is true that the phrase “other high crimes and misdemeanors” is open-ended. It is nonetheless clear that the phrase charts a narrow scope. The text explicitly links the phrase – by employing the term “other” – to definite terms treason and bribery. The familiar canon of construction, ejusdem generis, tells us that it is proper to understand the open-ended term as limited to conduct that involves the attributes common to the definite terms. Treason and bribery each involves an immediate and elemental threat to our constitutional system; an officer who commits either of these offenses is indisputably unfit for office. Thus, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” refers not to any misconduct but to misconduct that harms the nation as seriously as treason or bribery and that renders an officer as indisputably unfit to serve as an officer who commits treason or bribery.
by Peter Edelman, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy, Georgetown Law Center, and Chair, District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission
This is a perfect time to say thank you to Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York State Court of Appeals for his phenomenal leadership and accomplishments. He is still alive and well, and I know he will remain active in his longstanding and highly energetic pursuit of justice, but his retirement represents a moment when we can appreciate him publicly.
I know Chief Judge Lippman through my work on the DC Access to Justice Commission, and I think there is no chief justice or chief judge who is more committed to access to justice (although a few others may be in a tie with him). What he has gotten done is nothing short of incredible, and along with that he has always been available to go practically anywhere to spread the word. Even among the hard core of those already committed, he always inspires everyone in the room to work harder and do more. Passion and being the chief judge don’t usually go together, at least in public, so it is extra special that CJ Lippman displays his passion for access to justice so openly. I love it.
There is so much to recount. Getting $85 million from the legislature for civil legal aid this past year is one astonishing item, but it’s a culmination of work the CJ started the minute he took on the job years ago. His listening meetings around the state (as though he were running for office) built the foundation for everything else. Pretty shrewd, if I may say so. He formed a Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York and in 2015 made it into the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice. There was always something new. Every new day has been a day to do more. Whether it was pressing for more pro bono, pushing students to do more, or involving non-lawyers in useful roles, he had great ideas and he made them happen.
Robert F. Kennedy’s tragic presidential run – he was assassinated June 5, 1968 – was also extraordinary in that a major political figure was trying to focus the nation’s attention on the most vulnerable among us, those living in dire poverty. One of his top aides, Peter Edelman was instrumental in RFK’s efforts to arouse the national conscience about poverty. Edelman is now a Georgetown law school professor and a nationally recognized figure, devoted to improving our society by helping the large numbers of Americans who have for far too long been overlooked.
And, until recently, Peter was also ACS’s Board Chair. His term ended this month, but he remains on the Board. His leadership and guidance as Board Chair were deeply appreciated and we will look forward to his continued partnership with ACS for years to come.
Peter’s illustrious career has included not only his work for RFK, but also as Issues Director for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s presidential campaign and service in the U.S. Department of Justice as Special Assistant to Attorney General John Douglas.
But Peter above all, has devoted great amounts of energy and time to fighting poverty. If you’ve not done so, you should read Edelman’s 2012 book, So Rich, So Poor for a compelling, albeit disheartening, examination of why ending poverty in this nation has been a constant uphill battle. Bill Moyers called the book a must-read “for anyone who wants to understand why, in one of the richest nations in the world, millions of people, even those with jobs, are teetering just a medical bill or missed paycheck from disaster.”
We’re grateful Peter has given some of his remarkable energies and talent to support and advance the work of ACS.
It’s difficult to fathom how large swaths of the populace still embrace rightwing rhetoric proclaiming that in America almost anyone can significantly better their stations in life. It is the annoying yank yourself up by the bootstraps mentality that fogs the minds of far too many Americans, leaving them unable to appreciate just how detrimental the wealth gap is to sustaining a resilient economy.
But leading economists and think tanks, and to a lesser extent the Occupy Wall Street movement, caught on long ago and have strived to amplify the hard truth that in American if you are born into poverty your chances of experiencing the “American Dream” of upward mobility are almost nil – one is more likely to be struck by an asteroid. Yes that’s hyperbolic. But as Professor Peter Edelman details in his recent book So Rich, So Poor, our country’s safety net is so tattered that it has made it vastly more difficult to move from poverty to the middle class. The tired argument that less regulations of corporations and more tax breaks for the nation’s superrich will spur job creation and help move large numbers of people out of poverty continues to resonate with far too many people.
As noted on this blog recently, Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz dubbed the American dream a “myth.” The Columbia business school professor and author told a German publication that one’s chance of upward mobility in the country is really dependent on the income and education of your parents.”
The New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof recently offered a powerful piece about a nation that has become “unequal for all.”
Yeah it’s Constitution Day, and we have a blog symposium for that. But today also marks the anniversary of a gathering of protests aimed at blasting the risky ways of large financial institutions that brought on a global meltdown and America’s Great Recession. Occupy Wall Street protests also railed against the increasing corporate control of politics, and helped raise awareness of economic inequality that undermines democracy.
When those protests gathered steam and formed organization in places like New York’s Zuccotti Park, many right-wing pundits, like some on Fox News, belittled the protests as run by brain-addled youngsters and aging hippies with no real message. (Some on Fox News also expressed amazement at why any person would care about economic inequality.) But like so much of what spews from cable news carnival barkers, they were wrong.
As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick put it, many of the OWS protesters were exceedingly clear in their messaging. “They are holding up signs that are perfectly and intrinsically clear: They want accountability for the banks that took their money, they want to end corporate control of government. They want their jobs back. They would like to feed their children. They want – wait, no we want – to be heard by a media that has devoted four mind-numbing years to channeling and interpreting every word uttered by a member of the Palin family while ignoring the voices of everyone else.”
In a Sept. 14 post on OccupyWallStreet, website the “common villain” is Wall Street, which “is robbing the 99% blind on behalf the 1%.”
Likely a little hyperbole, but part of its message centers on the fact that for far too long, economic policy has been driven by lawmakers who cater to the superrich, ignoring a growing wealth gap and larger numbers of people falling into poverty.
In So Rich, So Poor, Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman explains how right-wing economic policy has created a wholly ineffectual social safety net.