Must the Senate hold an impeachment trial?

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Until this morning, I thought that the Senate had a constitutional obligation to hold a trial if the House approved articles of impeachment. At this point, I’m not sure of that anymore. Included in David Catron’s article is this quote from “Keith E. Whittington, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University.”

Prof. Whittington is quoted as saying “The Senate could entertain a motion to dismiss the charges at the outset of a trial on the grounds that the allegations did not meet the constitutional standard of impeachable offenses, and a majority of the Senate could send the House packing without ever hearing a witness or seeing evidence. If a majority of the senators thought the House was abusing the impeachment power … there is no reason why the Senate would have to pay obeisance to the House by going through the motions of a pointless trial.”

When Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, a trial was held in the Senate. At the time, then-Sen. Tom Harkin noted that senators were both judge and jury. Chief Justice William Rehnquist ruled that Sen. Harkin was right.

If senators have judicial authorities in an impeachment trial, why can’t they dismiss the case? If I had a $100 bill for each time I’ve heard it said that impeachment is whatever Congress says it is, I’d be semi-wealthy. If the House has the authority to say that a president’s actions are an impeachable offense, why shouldn’t the Senate have the authority to rule otherwise? I’ve seen nothing in the Constitution that states the House and Senate must agree.

In fact, the Constitution’s text suggests the opposite. If the Senate was obligated to agree with the House, there wouldn’t be a need for a Senate trial. If the Constitution said that, the Senate trial in those circumstances would be a rubberstamp. I’m certain that isn’t what the men who wrote the Constitution had in mind since they steadfastly insisted on a system of checks and balances.

If the Senate slapped down the House’s articles of impeachment on the grounds that they thought didn’t fit the Constitution’s requirements of treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors, that’s a legitimate verdict. I can’t picture the Supreme Court overturning that verdict. I’m betting that they wouldn’t want to touch it.

It’s difficult to picture anyone on Capitol Hill taking impeachment seriously, especially when it starts with this clown show:

What’s frightening is that Schiff is the more competent one between he and Nadler. In either case, the Senate should vote to drop the case on the grounds that it doesn’t rise to the constitutional requirements.