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When impeachment fails | Brennan Center for Justice


If impeachment does not resolve an abuse of presidential power, what will?

Some researchers argue that even without withdrawal, impeachment still has a purpose. New comparative research from Tom Ginsburg, Aziz Huq and David Landau on impeachment provides “the first comprehensive analysis of how constitutions around the world have approached [removals], and what are the likely consequences of the different design choices. Examining a large body of impeachment and impeachment data as well as case studies from South Korea, Brazil, Paraguay, South Africa and the United States, they argue that impeachment allows presidential or semi-presidential systems to emerge from a major crisis.

However, this “exit” from crises works best when the impeachment process ends with new elections immediately or soon after the impeachment of a head of state. In South Korea, for example, new elections must be called 60 days after the end of the impeachment process. Huq, Ginsburg, and Landau argue that this process reboots the system.

In the United States, we don’t have such a requirement for an immediate election, but we held an election by coincidence last November. What can this tell us about whether impeachment can provide this cleansing process? Some might say that the election results proved that here, too, impeachment can serve such a purpose. But because our election only happened because the calendar dictated it, we cannot rest on this heartwarming conclusion.

Some commentators thought that a “reset” election would allow Americans to say, definitively, “Trump is not who we are.” To serve as a reset, impeachment should result from elections that reflect the popular verdict – which we Actually are and what we actually believe – on the conduct of a president.

It is fair to say that the last election reflected “who we are”. More than 159 million people voted in the 2020 federal election and the 2021 Senate second round, the highest voter turnout in more than a century. As we’ve noted elsewhere, voters gave Democrats the “triumphant” leadership of the White House, Senate, and House – a definitive rebuke from Trump and his supporters in Congress.

But even if the 2020 election were a cure, there is little guarantee that future elections will be, given the ways in which Republicans seek to undermine elections to the Senate and state legislatures.

Contrary to the intention of the writers of the Constitution, Congress responds to problems slowly – or not at all – because the Senate does not represent the people, but rather the states, and the House is gerrymandered to a farewell. Senators from low-population states – more likely rural, white, conservatives, and Republicans – are at least as powerful as senators from high-population states, in part because they represent more homogenous interests. Further, the Senate’s obscure filibuster rule exaggerates the organization’s already undemocratic nature. Thus, proposed federal initiatives to address the democratic problems exposed by the last election – by making voter registration easier, preventing or curing partisan gerrymandering, and making voting itself more accessible – are hampered by the ability of the Republican minority to refuse a qualified majority that is immune to systematic obstruction. in the Senate.

Worse yet, where Republicans control state governments, they change the rules to make voting more difficult, especially for people of color. Republican lawmakers and other Republican officials, including several governors, say these new voting restrictions will restore public confidence in “electoral integrity.” Their claim, however, is not supported by any evidence of electoral security violations across the country sufficient to alter the national or state results of the 2020-2021 elections.

Republican-controlled states across the country have enacted vote suppression laws. Georgia this year enacted legislation that prohibits and criminalizes “queue heating” – the provision of food, water, and blankets by individuals or groups to voters in line, often for hours, while waiting to vote in their polling stations. The governor of Florida has signed new legislation that will also limit warming of the lines. Another repeated goal of these laws is voting on the Sunday before election day. As voting experts and others have noted, the likely target of these bans is “Souls to the Polls” – the custom among black churches to organize worshipers to vote together after services.

Republican-controlled states are also cracking down on other participatory practices. For example, Florida now prohibits individuals or groups from collecting mail-in ballots from voters for delivery to drop boxes, letter boxes, or polling stations. Florida law criminalizes the possession by any person of “two or more mail-in ballots other than their own ballot and that of a member of their immediate family.”

Overall, Republicans reject the idea that democracy is our constitutional model of government. Many have long argued that the United States is a “republic” and not a “democracy”. Of course, this proposal raises the question of who should be able to vote and with what ease.

Indeed, it is ironic that Republicans seem to believe that the restriction on the availability of the franchise serves the Republican model of government of the small rs. In Federalist No. 10, where Madison argued for the superiority of the Republican form of representative government (over the purely democratic form) to stifle factional power, he also argued that large republics were superior to small republics:

The smaller the society, the fewer distinct parties and interests there are likely to be in it; the less there are distinct parties and interests, the more frequently one will find a majority of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals making up a majority, and the smaller the compass in which they are placed, the more easily they will come together and carry out their plans of oppression. Expand the sphere, and you welcome a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less likely that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and act in unison with one another. In addition to other impediments, one can notice that, where there is awareness of unjust or dishonorable goals, communication is always blocked by mistrust in proportion to the number whose support is necessary. Hence, it becomes clear that the same advantage that a republic has over a democracy, by controlling factional effects, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic. [emphasis added]

It follows then that, all other things being equal, increasing the number of voters would make factions less powerful. Nonetheless, Republicans want to enact new limits on access to the ballot box, especially for urban and youth voters and voters of color, who tend not to support their party. Republicans aim to make it harder for these groups to vote, thus trying to avoid a demographic and ideological challenge to the white patriarchy in America.

The more Republicans restrict voting (for example by reducing the days and hours of voting, eliminating polling stations, banning the heating of lines and the collection of ballots for voters confined to their homes and for those without transportation to distant polling stations), the more likely they will be to reduce or discourage voter turnout. This way, they lock in their earnings over the long term. In their view, the winners go back to the spoils – or, under these new suppression laws, the ballots.