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Book Chapter

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The impeachment of President Clinton was more a circus than a serious effort to remove the President of the United States. The reason is simple: Few people--in the Congress or the country--wanted to remove him or believed the impeachment effort would actually result in his removal. Instead, it was a partisan political effort to embarrass Clinton and "send a message" of disapproval. Congress was attaching a "scarlet letter." But this was an indulgence that posed considerable danger that few in Congress considered. In particular, few tried to assess the potential impact this use of the process would have on the President's ability to govern and be Commander in Chief. This article will argue that such a frivolous use of the impeachment process is inappropriate and dangerous, especially in a post 9/11 world. The framers of the Constitution had it right; impeachment is a drastic remedy to be invoked only as last resort. This article will compare the Clinton impeachment with the two prior efforts to impeach a president: Andrew Johnson in the 1860's and Richard Nixon in the 1970's. In that comparison, it will note that, unlike the Clinton impeachment, those were serious efforts to remove a president from office, not merely attach a "scarlet letter." Finally, it will assess what factors allowed this misuse of the impeachment process and how we can avoid it in the future. It will suggest that the exuberance of the 1990s, the apparent absence of outside enemies at the time, and the security of seats in the House of Representatives (so-called "safe legislative seats") contributed to this nonchalant--and dangerous--attitude toward impeachment. September 11, 2001 changed some of those factors, but not all.

Publication Citation

Susan Low Bloch, Assessing the Impeachment of President Clinton from a Post-9/11 Perspective, in THE CLINTON PRESIDENCY AND THE CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM 190-220 (Rosanna Perotti ed., College Station, Tex.: Texas A&M University Press 2012)