How to Impeach a U.S. Supreme Court Justice

How to Impeach a U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Impeachment isn’t just for presidents in America. The U.S. Constitution allows other officials to be impeached, including Supreme Court justices. No justice of that court has been successfully removed through impeachment — yet.

The process has the same two steps as for presidents. The U.S. House of Representatives can vote, with a simple majority, to impeach a justice or other federal official. Then the U.S. Senate holds proceedings similar to a trial, then votes on whether to convict. If two-thirds of the Senate vote to convict, the justice is removed from office.

In addition to being impeachable over “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanours,” justices “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” According to the Brennan Centre, 15 federal judges, including justices, have been impeached — some successfully, some not. The most common grounds for impeachment were “false statements, favoritism toward litigants or special appointees, intoxication on the bench, and abuse of the contempt power.”

In 1801, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase was impeached, after then-U.S. President Thomas Jefferson accused him of bias in his decisions. The House voted to impeach, but the Senate voted to acquit.

In 1969, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas was threatened with impeachment after accepting a $US20,000 ($27,750)/year contract for legal advice from the family foundation of a financier who was then under investigation for securities violations, and whose case later made its way nearly to the Supreme Court. Fortas resigned before impeachment proceedings began.

This post was originally published in September 2018 and updated in October 2020 to add a new header photo.

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