This blog post was written by Director and Bob Bullock Archivist Mary Goolsby.
If you are interested in watching a recording of the panel, visit the Baylor Libraries’ website at www.baylor.edu/library/impeachment
On a beautiful Thursday afternoon, approximately 225 Baylor faculty, staff, students, and guests came to the Cashion Academic Building to hear a panel investigating the impeachment process. The four-person panel was led by moderator Dr. Stephen Sloan, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Institute for Oral History. Baylor Law professor Rory Ryan started the panel with a discussion of how little the U.S. Constitution actually says about either the process concerning or the reasons to justify impeachment. Ryan pointed out that the Constitution leaves it to the discretion of Congress to define the rules and procedures to be used and to determine if the actions of the president rise to the level of “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Dr. Sloan then guided us through the history of impeachment, which has mostly been used to remove federal judges. One case, United States vs. Walter Nixon, was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court due to “procedural unfairness.” By refusing to hear the case, however, the Supreme Court established a precedent that the judicial branch would not intervene in impeachment, a power specifically assigned to Congress in the Constitution. Sloan also spoke at length about President Andrew Johnson who faced 11 articles of impeachment because of his attempts to undermine new amendments to the Constitution that would protect African Americans’ rights following the Civil War. Johnson was impeached, but enough Republicans rallied around the Southern Democrat so that he was not removed from office. Most of these members were not reelected.
The Honorable Alan Steelman was a freshman, Republican Representative when the House began to investigate and consider impeaching President Richard Nixon for his role in the cover-up of the Watergate break-ins. Steelman reminisced of listening to the White House tapes and hearing the moment President Nixon was informed that the burglars were on the payroll of his re-election campaign. After a long pause, Steelman heard Nixon setting into motion the actions to cover up the crime. Nixon resigned before the House held the vote to impeach, knowing there was bi-partisan support for his impeachment and removal.
The Honorable Chet Edwards, who represented the Waco area for 20 years, thanked the audience for caring enough about our democracy to take part in what he called “a reasoned, calm discussion about the vitally important issue, the power of impeachment.” Edwards affirmed that the Nixon impeachment process was the ideal model for Congress to follow in impeaching and removing a president, because it was bi-partisan and there was widespread consensus that the crimes were egregious enough to undermine our democracy. Edwards, who was a leading House Democrat during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, asserted that though Clinton’s extramarital affair was morally unacceptable and unethical, it did not constitute “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.” The impeachment proceedings surrounding Clinton and current President Donald Trump were, in Edwards’s opinion, too partisan in nature.
The question-and-answer session resulted in thoughtful and calm discussions about the possible development of an “impeachment culture” influenced by social media, cable news, and pundits; the meaning of high crimes and misdemeanor; and the struggle for members of Congress in deciding to vote their conscience or vote according to the will of their constituents.
The panel was sponsored by the W. R. Poage Legislative Library, the Baylor Institute for Oral History and Baylor Law.