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67 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 712 (1998-1999)
Defining High Crimes and Misdemeanors: Basic Principles

handle is hein.journals/gwlr67 and id is 722 raw text is: Defining High Crimes and
Misdemeanors: Basic Principles
Laurence H. Tribe*
I am honored to have been invited to appear before this Subcommittee
of the House Judiciary Committee to shed whatever light I can on the vitally
important topic of The Background and History of Impeachment.
Although I will of course be willing to address whatever questions members
may have regarding the application of my testimony to the particular case of
President Clinton, I have understood my assignment to be a broader and
antecedent one: to analyze how the Constitution requires Congress to ap-
proach the threshold issue of deciding what constitutes an impeachable of-
fense. Because so much has been written, and so much more has been said,
about this topic, I have chosen to focus my comments on the basic principles
that I believe should guide us in this endeavor, rather than to essay yet an-
other detailed compilation of excerpts from the records of the 1787 Constitu-
tional Convention, from accounts of the state ratification debates, from The
Federalist, from the commentaries of Blackstone and Story, from the 1974
Staff Report of the House Judiciary Committee on Constitutional Grounds
for Presidential Impeachment, and the like.
I begin with this historical note: Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the
work of the House Judiciary Committee under the leadership of Representa-
tive Peter Rodino, in seeking to define impeachable offenses when dealing
with a Republican President, set the stage on which the House Judiciary
Committee under the leadership of Representative Henry Hyde plays out
today's sober drama in dealing with a Democratic President. So too, what
the Judiciary Committee does today in attempting to define impeachable of-
fenses will set the stage on which future struggles over the possible impeach-
ment of presidents to come, including presidents yet unborn, will be waged.
Indeed, how this Subcommittee and ultimately the House of Representatives
(and possibly the Senate) define impeachable offenses in this proceeding will
play an important role not only on those occasions, hopefully rare, when the
Nation again focuses its energies and its attention on the possible impeach-
ment and removal of a sitting President, but in the day-to-day life of the
* Laurence H. Tribe is the Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School,
where he has taught for 30 years. His more than one hundred books and articles include the
leading treatise, American Constitutional Law, whose third edition will be published later in
1999; Constitutional Choices; On Reading the Constitution; and Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes.
He argues frequently in the U.S. Supreme Court, winning the great majority of the challenging
cases he has handled there. Professor Tribe holds numerous honorary degrees, is the recipient of
many academic and other awards, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sci-
ences. This Article was drawn without change from the testimony Professor Tribe submitted to
the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the House Judiciary Committee on November 9, 1998.
Excerpts from Professor Tribe's oral testimony of that date and a letter from Professor Tribe to
Congressman Charles T. Canady dated November 16, 1998 are included as appendices to the
March 1999 Vol. 67 No. 3

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