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ARTICLE V -- Impeachment

By Bob Hegamin January 11, 1998

The following is from the Constitution of the United States.

ARTICLE II Section 4. Impeachment.

The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

The impeachment of the President of the United States of America has generated a great deal of controversy because of the many interpretations of those few, concise words in the U.S. Constitution. The contentious environment can be subdued, though, if very early arguments on the topic are added. A case in point is a decision included in the constitution ratified for the admission of Washington as the 42nd state of the Union. The framers of the state’s constitution had borrowed freely from the federal constitution, but made one very important change to the articles of impeachment that bears on today’s case.

Historically, “…the (Washington State) Constitution was ratified by the people at an election held on October 1, 1889, and on November 11, 1889, in accordance with section 8 of the Enabling Act, the President of the United States proclaimed the admission of the State of Washington into the Union.” (From 1997 – 1998 Legislative Manual of the State of Washington). Article V – Impeachment of the state Constitution follows.

Section 1. Impeachment – Power of and procedure. The House of Representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment. The concurrence of a majority of all the members shall be necessary to an impeachment. All impeachments shall be tried by the Senate, and, when sitting for that purpose, the Senators shall be upon oath or affirmation to do justice according to law and evidence. When the Governor or Lieutenant Governor is on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside. No person shall be convicted without a concurrence of two-thirds of the Senators elected.

Section 2. Officers liable to. The Governor and other state and judicial officers, except judges and justices of courts not of record, shall be liable to impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors, or malfeasance in office, but judgment in such cases shall extend only to removal from office and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit, in the state. The party, whether convicted or acquitted, shall, nevertheless, be liable to prosecution, trial, judgment and punishment according to law. (emphasis added)

Section 3. Removal from office. All officers not liable to impeachment shall be subject to removal for misconduct or malfeasance in office, in such manner as may be prescribed by law.

(From 1997 – 1998 Legislative Manual of the State of Washington)

It is noteworthy that the framers of the state constitution during their deliberations did not consider the federal articles of impeachment explicit enough. To them, “high crimes could only have meant any major crime against the state, such as sedition or bribery. Minor crimes were not impeachable. “Misdemeanors ” was then left to describe the official’s personal misconduct, misbehavior, or misdeed, such as public drunkenness or debauchery -- acts that would embarrass the office and the state. Seeing a potential “loophole”, they plugged it by adding “malfeasance in office” to their constitution with the phrase probably having the same meaning then as that currently used in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 29.82.010, to wit:

(1) ….. “Malfeasance” in office means any wrongful conduct that affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty.

(b) Additionally, “malfeasance” in office means the commission of an unlawful act.

Given the perspective of the state framers, without malfeasance in office, the U.S. Constitution implicitly allows for the impeachment of the President whether or not “any wrongful conduct..(actually) affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty.”

At the national and state levels, people want their elected officials to succeed. Conversely, they do not want their chief executive officers impeached. It must be assumed the people must have considered eliminating or limiting those situations in which the official would be vulnerable. In order to help accomplish that, for instance, security guards or agents were assigned to the chief executives. It can readily be seen that besides providing for the personal safety of the official, the agents secondary mission is to shield that official from opportunities to commit “misdemeanors”. The articles of impeachment, in the constitutions of both the United States and the State of Washington, were written to control any inappropriate action by their highest ranking elected officials. They are the necessary reminders that all improper acts are the personal responsibility and accountability of the individual official. The alternative for circumventing them is the penalty of “removal from office.”

As an adjunct, the framers of the Washington State Constitution must have also determined 111 years after the U.S. Constitution had been written, treason was irrelevant to the constitution of a state government and bribery could be included under “high crimes.” The following is from a related article, “United States Constitution – House Process – Impeachment” establishing the original need to include “treason” and “bribery” in the U.S. Constitution.

(But, in 1787), obviously, the first order of business for the leaders of the emerging nation was to guarantee its survival. The framers had committed themselves to one reality. They were not going to live under another monarchy but, since it was the only type of government they had known, they knew what it was they didn’t want. Their chief concern, however, was that their new, untried government would still have opponents who wanted to establish a monarchy. The framers of the Constitution were not going to give any opposition member, in the role of “President, Vice President” or any member of the select group of “civil officers of the United States”, an opportunity to use treachery or bribery to take the new nation apart.