Friday, July 18, 2014

Violating the Constitution: Impeachment in American History

The Founding Fathers wished to establish a strong central government, yet limit the capacity for the abuse of power. Their goal was to separate power among the branches of government and avoid partisanship in critical issues, particularly in matters such as impeachment. Borrowed from their English forebears, the impeachment process is a tool for the removal of public officials from power as a part of the “checks and balances” system of federalist government. It ensures both continuity and accountability of office holders as a check against those attempting to sway the balance in their favor.

Framing the Process

Under Article II, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment. If the House passes articles of impeachment, responsibility to try the charges and remove those guilty then passes to the Senate. The Senate must concur with a two-thirds majority for a conviction of guilt. The process applies only to the Executive and Judicial branches; Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution outlines the procedure for removing members of Congress. While punishment is restricted to removal and disqualification from holding office, removed office holders can face civil or criminal trial for crimes they committed while in office. Article II, Section 4, reads:

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 ambiguity of the latter part has perplexed legal scholars and political analysts since inception. Interpretation includes crimes that threaten national security, as well as non-criminal actions derided solely for their political unpopularity. The issue centers on what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” With impeachment not a criminal proceeding, as it is strictly a means for the removal of officeholders, there is debate whether one must be guilty of a criminal offense for its occurrence. Many argue that such a broad interpretive context politicizes the process, despite the attempt by the Founders to do otherwise. In Federalist Paper no. 65, Alexander Hamilton expressed the sentiment thusly in 1788:

The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”

The flexibility of “high crimes and misdemeanors” has had mixed results over the course of U.S. history, as what constitutes an indictment of wrongdoing has been re-interpreted to correlate with circumstances of the time. However, the majority agree that any violation or abuse of the public trust injurious to society as a whole is an impeachable offense.

Famous Cases

In 1797, the House voted to impeach Senator William Blount despite his earlier expulsion from the Senate. However, the Senate dropped the charges against him, citing his removal from office as due punishment. It set the precedent with regard to the limitations of action Congress could take against its members. Blount was the first ever expelled from the Senate under the Constitution. Nevertheless, the majority of impeachment proceedings have involved judges. The most famous – Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1804 – involved charges of political bias. Defenders argued that Chase’s actions, while extreme and immodest, were not impeachable. Many regard his acquittal by the Senate in 1805 as preserving the independence of the judicial branch.

In the history of the United States, four Presidents – John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and William Clinton – have faced impeachment. The resolution against Tyler in 1843 never passed the House, while Nixon resigned in 1974 before a near guaranteed impeachment and conviction by the full Congress. The only two ever impeached by the House – Johnson in 1868 and Clinton in 1998 – were eventually acquitted by the Senate following bitter partisan trials. President Gerald Ford, who succeeded Nixon upon his resignation, later issued a controversial pardon for any offenses Nixon may have committed while in office. At the time, many criticized it as a politically motivated bargain struck between the two; scholars and historians have since concluded that it promptly restored the integrity of the Presidency during a critical period in U.S. history.

Given the current administration’s numerous scandals over the past 5 ½ years that have been more the rule than the exception – and that thus far outweigh those of its four predecessors combined – could another sitting president face the same fate? With falling poll numbers and failing policies plaguing President Obama and Democrats in general, the prospect exists should Republicans gain control over the full Congress – and has the leadership and votes in place to pursue it – following the mid-term election in November.

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Friday, July 4, 2014

Denying Access to a Singular Belief

On a lazy Sunday night while flipping channels on the television, I came across The Matrix on a basic cable channel. Watching for a bit, I noticed a line of dialogue had been changed from “my own personal JESUS CHRIST” to “my own personal JUVENILE DELINQUENT.” When did “Jesus Christ” become censorable wording? Why must politically correct sensitivity favor those bothered by such words without consideration to those who hold them in reverence? As the United States has gradually transformed into a more secular society away from its religious roots, it increasingly seems to be losing its tolerance for them as well.

Then, the Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case sent liberals into delusional hysterics. From the beginning – at least, for anyone who truly believes in the U.S. Constitution – the one and only reaction to the case should have been that religious freedom had to be tested and, ultimately, upheld in the first place. As stated in their argument, Hobby Lobby – despite conflicting with the owner’s religious beliefs – already provided 16 of the 20 federally mandated contraceptive methods because it would violate those same beliefs not to provide such health-related benefits. The four they objected to are, in their opinion, non-health related for use more as birth control (i.e. an “aborticide”) than anything else, and, thus, opposed on religious grounds. In its certiorari petition to the court, the Obama Administration even suggested as such in citing the FDA concerning intrauterine devices (IUD), Plan B and ella that “may prevent the [fertilized] egg from attaching (implanting) in the womb (uterus)” – thereby ending the life of the unborn at conception in opposition to religious beliefs held by Hobby Lobby’s owners.

Whether you agree with that argument or not, religious freedom nevertheless has been a fundamental right of Americans as guaranteed in the Constitution since the founding of the United States. Is it a contentious precedent for business entities in terms of the “separation of church and state” – simply meant as no establishment of a state religion, rather than no religion in governing – as some contend? Perhaps, but millions of Americans still conduct their lives based around their religious beliefs; that fact cannot be easily trumped in favor of acquiescence to values that conflict with them. Doubly, it is hypocritical to single out and condemn one company for making a business decision based on moral grounds while praising numerous others for the same simply because the latter aligns with personal ideology.

Furthermore, employer-based health insurance never has been a guaranteed entitlement in the first place. Rather, it always has been an incentive benefit designed to attract employees. Forcing employers additionally to provide what employees believe they are entitled to – especially something that violates particular beliefs – eschews the generosity of what already is given freely to them. And not all companies are equal in that generosity even still today. Therein lays the rub. Despite the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), universal still does not equate to complete healthcare coverage. In fact, the ACA is anything but affordable, universal or complete; in many instances, access to healthcare has been made worse and more expensive in terms of rates and deductibles for fewer services than in the pre-Obamacare era. This is particularly true concerning the “you can keep your doctor” lie, as many insurance plans continue to dump doctors from their rolls to comply with mandates of the law.

As it is, the massive overhaul of the entire private healthcare industry has failed to address, tweak and fix the flaws of the old system while creating new ones in their wake. The Hobby Lobby case never would have occurred if not for Obamacare and its penalty-laden mandated healthcare coverages forced upon employers – which, as successfully argued, in part violate the religious beliefs of the company's owners. As alternatively proposed, a system tailored around individual choice and personal responsibility should have been, and still can be, implemented. Most notably is the example of the Health Savings Account (HSA), in which employees are free to use for whatever purpose whether to pay insurance premiums or doctor visits and employers would be mandated to pay into unconditionally. Under such a system, employees would have more choice in their healthcare decisions in choosing their own private insurance – with whatever desired or needed coverages, including mandated requirements for pre-existing conditions, contraceptives and prescription drugs – while essentially maintaining employer-based insurance coverage upon which employers would have no say.

It is distressing, if not poignant, that in the midst of this controversy, in which Christians have been attacked with
liberal exaggerations and outright lies concerning women’s health rights, President Obama hailed intolerant and repressively anti-women Islam on the occasion of Ramadan. Think there is a “war on women” in the U.S., as alleged by those on the left who ironically inflict and exploit it? Try protesting healthcare access and contraceptive coverage under sharia law, let alone obtaining it. Although agnostic and by no means religious by any measure myself, all of this should be troubling, and a wake up call, to anyone endowed with an ounce of common sense – clearly lacking in liberals who attacked SCOTUSblog, an independent blog that covers the Supreme Court, on social media for the Hobby Lobby decision as opposed to the actual U.S. Supreme Court – and tired of the “tolerance” hypocrisy continuously displayed by the liberal agenda. 

©2014 Steve Sagarra