Article II, Section 4:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
The Constitution gives Congress the authority to impeach and remove the President,1 Vice President, and all federal
civil officers for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.2 This tool was inherited from English practice, in which Parliament impeached and convicted ministers and favorites of the Crown in a struggle for to rein in the Crown's power. Congress's power of impeachment is an important check on the executive and judicial branches, recognized by the Framers as a crucial tool for holding government officers accountable for violations of the law and abuses of power.3 Congress has most notably employed the impeachment tool against the President and federal judges, but all federal civil officers are subject to removal by impeachment.4 The practice of impeachment makes clear, however, that Members of Congress are not civil officers subject to impeachment and removal.5
While judicial precedents inform the effective substantive meaning of various provisions of the Constitution, impeachment is at bottom a unique political process largely unchecked by the judiciary. While the meaning of treason and bribery is relatively clear, the scope of high crimes and misdemeanors lacks a formal definition and has been fleshed out over time, in a manner perhaps analogous to the common law, through the practice of impeachments in the United States Congress.6 The type of behavior that qualifies as impeachable conduct, and the circumstances in which impeachment is an appropriate remedy for such actions, are thus determined by, among other things, competing political interests, changing institutional relationships among the three branches of government, and legislators' interaction with and accountability to the public.7 The weight of historical practice, rather than judicial precedent, is thus central to understanding the nature of impeachment in the United States.