From Smirking Chimp
With the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, the radical right has completed its long and painstaking project to seize control of the Supreme Court, and to reshape constitutional law for generations to come. Barrett's elevation will give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the court and usher in a crisis of legitimacy for the third branch of government not seen since the 1930s.
The right's triumph has prompted anger and soul-searching among Democrats and progressives, sparking calls to expand the number of Supreme Court justices, echoing Franklin D. Roosevelt's unsuccessful effort to add additional seats to the high tribunal in the midst of the Great Depression.
Enlarging the Supreme Court is entirely within the power of Congress, as the number of justices is not set by the Constitution. The court's composition has, in fact, varied over time, ranging from six justices when the Constitution was ratified to 10 in 1863. The panel was reduced to nine by an act of Congress in 1867 and has remained there since then by statute.
While Democrats should definitely demand court expansion if they retake the White House and the Senate and hold the House, there is at least one additional step they should take to address the court's legitimacy crisis -- the impeachment of its most corrupt member -- Clarence Thomas.
Thomas should be impeached on charges of perjury for allegedly lying in his annual financial disclosure statements for over a decade and, more fundamentally, for lying in his 1991 confirmation hearing about his disgusting history of sexual harassment.
Although federal judges are appointed for life, their terms are subject to "good behavior." Like all civil officers of the United States, they can be removed, under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, "on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."
The impeachment process, as we were reminded by the experience of President Trump, consists of two basic steps: First, members of the House of Representatives impeach an official by adopting, on a simple majority vote, one or more articles of impeachment, which read very much like a criminal complaint or a grand jury indictment. Step two proceeds with a trial in the Senate, which has the power to convict on a two-thirds ballot. Ouster from office follows conviction automatically, and cannot be appealed.
Only three presidents -- Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Trump -- have been impeached in our history, and all were exonerated in their Senate trials. A fourth, Richard Nixon, resigned in the face of near-certain impeachment and removal for his role in the Watergate scandal.
The impeachment of federal judges, by contrast, has been far more common. To date, 15 federal judges have been impeached, and eight have been convicted by the Senate. Indeed, the only Senate impeachment trials resulting in convictions have involved judges.
Since 1988, three federal judges have been impeached and removed on charges involving perjury. The last judge to be impeached was G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of the Eastern District of Louisiana, a Clinton appointee who was convicted by the Senate and ejected from office in December 2010 for accepting bribes and, among other derelictions, signing false financial declarations under penalty of perjury.
Thomas, if targeted, would become just the second Supreme Court Justice to be impeached. In 1804, the House charged Associate Justice Samuel Chase with eight articles of impeachment for engaging in arbitrary and oppressive conduct and expressing political bias while serving as a trial judge in certain Sedition Act cases during an era when Supreme Court justices also conducted trials. An outspoken Federalist and supporter of John Adams, Chase incurred the ire of Thomas Jefferson and his Republican allies. Chase was acquitted the following year in a Senate trial presided over by Vice President Aaron Burr. (The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides only in presidential impeachment trials.)
As the Senate's website instructs, Chase's exoneration has since been construed to insulate the "judiciary from... congressional attacks based on disapproval of judges' opinions." Guided by the Chase example, an impeachment proceeding against Thomas could not be initiated because of policy differences Democrats may have with him, even though Thomas has demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the constitutional rights of minorities, women and criminal defendants during his tenure on the Supreme Court.
Like Porteous, however, Thomas is vulnerable to perjury allegations.
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