First, this action by the Illinois legislature and now that of California and Vermont caught a lot of people off guard. How can a state legislature do this? It seems so out of line to most people. But to Thomas Jefferson and the framers, it was right in line with their way of thinking about the power of a state legislature. Most people forget the important role that state legislatures play in selecting the President and how much additional power was initially given to state legislatures. Before Article 1 Section 3 of the Constitution was modified by the seventeenth amendment in 1913, the state legislatures themselves selected the US Senators for each state. The people of each state had no direct right to vote for their senators. The people still have no direct vote for President. Article 2 section 1 of the Constitution says "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector." The Twelfth amendment then goes on to describe how those electors go about their business to elect a President and Vice President.
Now that we see that it is not all that unusual for a state legislature to impact the office of the President, what might happen if one of these state legislatures votes to submit recommendations for impeachment to the House of Representatives? My guess is that the Speaker of the House would go running to the House Parliamentarian for guidance. The House Parliamentarian is not a member of congress per se but is an individual appointed by the Speaker of the House to guide the house on all issues regarding House Rules and Parliamentary procedure. This is one of the many places where this gets interesting. The current House Parliamentarian, John Sullivan, is fairly new, having been appointed only 11 months ago. The Previous House Parliamentarian, Charles Johnson, served over ten years and was widely regarded by members on both sides of the aisle as non partisan and an expert on the rules and procedures of the House. Mr. Sullivan is likely to be called on shortly to render one of the most important judgments on the rules of the House in the last 100 or so years. How will he make his decision? It is likely to be guided by a number of documents and precedents. Every two years, the new congress adopts a set of rules, this 109th congress being no different. The rules for this congress can be viewed at http://www.rules.house.gov/archives/109th.pdf . One will note that the Final Rule of this US House of Representatives, Rule Twenty Eight, General Provisions is as follows:
1. The provisions of law that constituted the Rules of the House at the end of the previous Congress shall govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable, and the rules of parliamentary practice comprised by Jefferson's Manual shall govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the Rules and orders of the House.
Also of probable note to Mr. Sullivan will be "Parliamentary Reference Sources: House of Representatives" - by Thomas Carr, http://www.rules.house.gov/archives/rl30787.pdf Updated March 16, 2004 which has as its Summary:
House procedures are not based solely on the chamber's rules. The foundations of House parliamentary procedure also include constitutional mandates, rules of parliamentary practice set forth in Jefferson's Manual, published precedents, rulemaking statutes, committee rules, "memorandums of understanding" regarding committee jurisdiction, the rules of each party's caucus or conference, and informal practices. Parliamentary reference sources provide information about how and when these foundations of House procedures govern different parliamentary situations.
Where all of this will take Mr. Sullivan is anyone's guess, but I see nothing yet in the House Rules which would prevent a legislature's impeachment resolution from being accepted as a proposed bill in the House. Stay tuned for more articles from me on the Bush Impeachment situation as it progresses.