Impeachment Made Easy: The Illinois Model
How quickly can a motivated legislative chamber impeach a scoundrel?
Very quickly, indeed.
The Illinois House of Representatives, acting just hours after the chamber's investigative committee recommended action against scandal-plagued Governor Rod Blagojevich, voted 114-1 Friday morning in favor of impeachment of the man who allegedly hung a "for sale" sign on the Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.
The Illinois House action sets up a state Senate trial that could lead to the removal of Blagojevich for abusing his office -- and for getting himself in such a mess that he can no longer effectively govern.
The Senate convenes for a trial on the impeachment charge next week, with each of the 59 senators acting as a juror. If 40 vote to convict the governor, he's out.
And if sentiments expressed in the state House are any indication -- where support for impeachment crossed lines of party, ideology and region -- it seems likely that the governor's days in office are numbered.
"Due to his conduct, the governor has failed to uphold the oath of office," explained state Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, who chaired of the House panel that held impeachment hearings while everyone in Washington was watching the circus surrounding Blagojevich's nomination of Roland Burris to fill the Obama seat.
On Thursday, the committee unanimously recommended that the House move against the governor.
On Friday, it did, with Currie saying of the governor: "He is no longer capable of defending our liberties. He should be impeached."
State Representative Jack Frank, a Chicago Democrat, was blunter: "It's our duty to clean up the mess and stop the freak show that's become Illinois government."
Representative Frank and his colleagues will get no argument from this quarter.
However, it is intriguing to some of us who have advocated for another impeachment (or so), that things are now moving so quickly in Illinois that Blagojevich forced from office before George Bush and Dick Cheney leave voluntarily.
What the Illinois circumstance tells us it that, for all the whining and bemoaning by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her cautious colleagues, impeachment need not be the cumbersome or dysfunctional process that members of Congress imagine -- and fear.
While Blagojevich certainly seems deserving of early retirement, it is difficult to imagine how the Illinoisan's offenses can even be compared with those of Cheney -- who recently acknowledged violating his oath of office and affronting the Constitution by actively promoting cruel and unusual punishment of those detained by the U.S. government.
Say what you will about the mess in Illinois.
But at least the Land of Lincoln has a legislature that recognizes its constitutional duty and acts upon it.
Washington could take a lesson from Springfield.
After all, there's still more than enough time to impeach and try a vice president who has admitted to far higher crimes and misdemeanors than those alleged against Governor Blagojevich.
There is no Constitutional impediment -- only the false construct put in place by Pelosi when she declared, for reasons of politics as opposed to principle, that impeachment was off the table.
© 2009 The Nation