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 provides that the grounds of impeachment are for
treason, bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. While the types of conduct constituting treason and bribery are relatively well-understood terms,1 the meaning of
high Crimes and Misdemeanors is not defined in the Constitution or in statute.2 The basic framework for impeachment was inherited from English practice by the colonies in their adoption of state constitutions.3 Both experiences informed the adoption of impeachment provisions in the federal Constitution.
The common method for interpreting the Constitution's impeachment provisions stands in some contrast to that of other constitutional provisions. Whereas judicial precedent drives the prevailing understanding of many provisions of the Constitution, impeachment is essentially a political process that is largely unreviewable by the judicial branch.4 As such, the historical practice of impeachment proceedings, rather than judicial decisions, informs our understanding of the Constitution's meaning in this area. In this vein, the meaning of
high crimes and misdemeanors is informed not by judicial decisions, but by the history of congressional impeachments.5
Impeachment has been used to remove government officers who abuse the power of the office; conduct themselves in a manner incompatible with the purpose and function of their office; or misuse the office for improper or personal gain.6