Impeachment and the First Amendment, Revisited
We are now two weeks removed from the Senate impeachment trial. Already, that enervating saga has faded into our polity’s rear-view mirror. I hope that this distance provides an opportunity for calm reflection on the legal arguments raised in those proceedings. Specifically, I’d like to address the First Amendment and the impeachment process.
Prior to January 6, 2021, most people never considered the interaction between the First Amendment and the impeachment process. I had. In 2017, I wrote a widely-read Lawfare post on obstruction of justice and the presidency. (Trump’s lawyers would cite this post). I argued that the Constitution imposes certain limits on Congress’ powers to regulate the presidency. And I argued that these particular limitations apply with respect to civil laws, criminal laws, and even the impeachment process. That is, Congress could not impeach the President for conduct that complies with the Constitution. And this limitation cuts in two directions. Congress could not impeach the President for exercising a specific power delegated by Article II. And Congress could not impeach the President for conduct that is expressly protected by the Bill of Rights.
My Lawfare series caused a stir. Critics argued that the Constitution does not limit the impeachment process: Congress could impeach the President for just about any reason—even if the President was complying with the Constitution. Other critics accepted my general premise, but countered that Trump’s conduct was not consistent with the Constitution. Still, I did not think my position was frivolous. I wrote that
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