Article III of the U.S. Constitution reads, “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” Conveniently, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) defines “trial” as, “a structured process where the facts of a case are presented to a jury, and they decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charge offered. During the trial, the prosecutor uses witnesses and evidence to prove to the jury that the defendant committed the crime(s).” In our justice system we rely on judges and juries to hold authority over the cases of the people of the United States. We expect them to ensure that we are given a fair, speedy trial, the right to an attorney and the right to call witnesses. In Nixon v. U.S. (1993), Rehnquist ruled that, “authority over impeachment trials is reposed in the Senate and nowhere else.” Thus, the Senate is responsible for ensuring that the integrity of an impeachment trial is maintained.
One can reasonably question whether that responsibility is adequately assigned. In the rest of our justice system, there are very few groups of people that are ineligible for jury service, one of which being, “public officers of federal, state or local governments, who are actively engaged full-time in the performance of public duties,” another of which are people showing undue bias for or against the defendant.
In an impeachment trial, our senators serve as jurors, all of whom would—in any other trial—be ruled ineligible for having a bias for or against the defendant and for holding public office. Although the Constitution assigns the authority over impeachments to the Senate, our Constitution remains amendable for a reason: to adapt to changing times. Times have changed, and the United States should consider shifting impeachment proceedings to occur in the only body that is intended to be unbiased in our government: the Supreme Court. This shift should include the implementation of a citizen comprised jury, rather than one of “public officials.”
The second United States President, John Adams, wrote that, “knowledge monopolized or in the possession of a few is a Curse to Mankind … we should dispense it among all Ranks … equality should be preserved in knowledge.” Meanwhile, our own Senate can hold a “trial” that denies the presentation of evidence and witnesses, arbitrarily deciding to withhold information from the people of the United States, of whom they are said to represent.
Given that the definition of a trial includes the presence of “witnesses and evidence,” in no other trial do jurors vote on whether or not information will be allowed to be seen. Those senators who voted to block witnesses in the Senate not only subverted our justice system but also knowingly quelled the flow of information to the people, with the assistance of the President himself.
In a recent visit to the World Economic Forum, President Donald Trump stated, “When we released that conversation [with Ukranian President Zelensky] all hell broke out with the Democrats. Because they said, ‘Wait a minute, this is much different than [what Adam Schiff] told us … I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material.”
Trump blatantly admits the restraint of information, which potentially could have been uncovered with the calling of further witnesses, especially considering that Trump himself threatened to prevent John Bolton’s testimony.
As the Hudson River flows from the Adirondacks to the Atlantic, the truth must flow from the government to our people, and no one should be susceptible to harm when exposing the truth. Nonetheless, several Republican senators are frightened by the fear tactics of Senator McConnell, as well as Trump aides, which presents formidable challenges to our democracy. The U.S. democracy revolves around a lack of official political ideology, and dissent being acceptable and unpunishable.
Meanwhile, in the current state of affairs, it was seen as acceptable for a “vote against the president and your head will be on a pike” memo to be circulated before the trial. This has led to various questionable statements from no-voters such as Senator Marco Rubio, who retorted, “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office.” His argument equates to saying that just because someone is guilty of a crime does not mean they should be convicted. It also implies that he is opting out of his job as a juror, which is to decide on innocence or guilt, not “what is best for the country.”
Apart from those who have been privately coerced into a “no” vote, there are also those who are blatantly ignorant and in violation of the law themselves. At the start of Senate proceedings, each senator takes this oath: “I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of ____, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.” Yet prior to the trial’s vote on witnesses, Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that he was, “trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here. I don’t need any witnesses.” If this is impartial justice being served, our political justice system is not only blind but deaf to overt admissions of negligence, fabrication and obduracy.
Trump’s future has already been decided, and the echoes of this impeachment will be left for the dogs of history to feast upon. But if the double-edged sword of his impeachment trial “exonerated” him, it indicted our democracy of grave failures, including an impeachment trial process that makes a laughing stock of our political justice system, our Senate’s shocking inability to be impartial and the active threats that exist against inner-party dissonance. While the fate of this trial has been sealed, the next trial for Americans is in voting the future into office and pushing for institutional change that allows for our country to flaunt a real democracy—one which has a fair political justice system, represents the people and allows for candid political opposition at every level.
Stephen Boe is a member of the Class of 2022.