UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 30, 2009

WAS THE BLAGO IMPEACHMENT FAIR?

Josh Goodman, Governing - It's the question no one really wants to dwell on too much: Did Rod Blagojevich get a raw deal?

At this point, virtually everyone thinks that Illinois is better off without Blagojevich as the state's governor. He embarrassed the state, he distracted from serious work that needed to get done and he very well might have engaged in criminal behavior.

Plus, it's pretty clear that Illinois legislators were within their rights to remove Blagojevich from office. The Illinois Constitution doesn't require that the governor have committed high crimes and misdemeanors to be removed. It doesn't require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It actually, so far as I can tell, doesn't require evidence of anything in particular for a governor to lose his job.

In a way, though, that makes evaluating the process of the Blagojevich proceedings more important. Without clear constitutional guidance, the legislature set a precedent as to what the standards will be to remove governors in the future. So, it's worth asking whether the standards they used were fair.

Blagojevich has made a bunch of arguments about the unfairness of the process, some of which are exaggerations. The Associated Press did a great job of checking the facts on many of the governor's claims. For example, he couldn't call witnesses on his own, but he could have asked for witnesses to be called. He didn't take advantage of that opportunity.

But, his antics aside, I do think Blagojevich has a point. The prospect of a criminal trial for the governor seriously limited his ability to defend himself during impeachment.

The governor was forbidden from calling as witnesses in the impeachment case some people who might be witnesses in the federal investigation against him -- in other words, the exact people who know best what Blagojevich did and didn't do.

Nor did any members of the Illinois legislature hear more than brief snippets of the recorded conversations that are the basis of the criminal complaint against Blagojevich. In other words, legislators in Illinois have, to a large extent, taken Patrick Fitzgerald at his word.

Even if that was a reasonable thing to do in this case, it's a questionable standard to set. It's easy to imagine a scenario where the governor is the ethical one and the U.S. Attorney is the one up to mischief. No criminal court in the United States would prevent a defendant from hearing the evidence against him or questioning the relevant witnesses.

Of course, the point that people make over and over again about Blagojevich's impeachment is that the process is political, not criminal. He's not going to jail (yet). He's merely being removed from office.

"Merely," though, isn't quite appropriate. Removing an elected official from office before his term is up, in effect suspending the standard rules of democracy, is a very serious thing. Why, exactly, shouldn't the standards of the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also apply to impeachment proceedings?

2 Comments:

Blogger JRR said...

As an Illinoisan, not only do I think the impeachment and removal of Rod Blagojevich was fair, but it was two or three years overdue.

In addition to the allegations of criminal behavior, this governor has antagonized the legislature, subverted the separation of powers, spent tax dollars without authorization, changed his demands in the middle of a negotiation in progress, going beyond the pale even by Illinois standards in seeking political gain for every executive decision, and generally having an imperious attitude while lacking stable leadership and basic competence. The state is a disaster after six years of his reign, and the federal charges of corruption are not an isolated incident but are simply the straw that broke the camel's back.

In the end, the Illinois Constitution states only that the state House determine "existence of cause for impeachment" and that the state Senate "do justice according to law" in trying the articles of impeachment. Impeachment is a political action -- a job performance hearing, if you will -- as distinguished from a criminal case with strict rules of evidence and a presumption of innocence until proof of guilt applies. The criteria by which an Illinois official is convicted on impeachment charges are thus determined solely in the consciences of the Senators who hold him in judgment. The outcome of an impeachment proceeding therefore doesn't require criminal behavior as a condition of conviction; the crux of the matter is nothing more than the question whether the official on trial is deemed fit to remain in office.

Not only was this judgment fair, there is evidence that the unanimous conviction of Blagojevich and lifetime ban on him serving in public office has the support of close to 90% of Illinois voters.

January 31, 2009 3:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: JRR
Does your second paragraph apply to our previous President?

Josh Goodman's article merely presented the question of whether having such vague "Political" requirements for impeachment is such a good idea. Maybe the impeachment of Rod Blogojevich wasn't the best case to raise the question after, as shown by the 100% vote, but the idea of having some specific requirements for impeachment would Not be a bad idea.

In response to another person's comments, if you read the original article / comments, Josh Goodman states:
"My question... is whether it (the 6th Amendment) should apply. There are, in my opinion, lots of good reasons that the 6th Amendment was included in the Constitution. It discourages frivolous prosecutions and helps ensure that the facts come out at trial. If it's a good idea for criminal trials, why isn't it a good idea for impeachment trials? Along the same lines, why shouldn't Illinois specify what constitutes an impeachable offense and what the standard for conviction is, whether it's "beyond a reasonable doubt" or something else?”

Unless Blogojevich is convicted of a felony, an impeachment alone shouldn't restrict a person from running for another political office. That's punitive, has nothing to do with impeachment, and sounds like the reason for a future court case.

This was not just a No Confidence Vote.

January 31, 2009 11:16 AM  

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