Murkowski Statement on Constitutionality of Impeachment Trial

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today released the following statement after voting to confirm that it is within the U.S. Senate’s authority under the U.S. Constitution to hold the impeachment trial of former President Donald J Trump.

“The debate over the constitutionality of convicting former federal officers has been going on since 1797, when Senator William Blount was found to have engaged in a plot to help Great Britain take control of the Spanish territories of Louisiana and Florida. However, it was not until 1876 that the Senate first clearly asserted jurisdiction over a former official during the trial of William Belknap, who served as Grant’s Secretary of War. 

“While the Constitution does not speak directly to the issue of impeachment of a former president, the Senate is given the ‘sole power to try all impeachments,’ and the power to ‘determine the rules of its own proceedings.’ These two provisions give the Senate wide discretion when deciding whether and how to hold a trial of impeachment.  Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution does not provide removal as the sole remedy during an impeachment proceeding, it also provides for disqualification from holding future offices.  When combined with the tradition of “late impeachments” in England and the precedent established in 1876 during the Belknap trial, I am convinced that this body retains jurisdiction over former officials.  The majority of constitutional scholars who have considered this question agree with this position. 

“Moreover, the Senate should want to retain that authority. The American people should also want it to do so.  If a civil officer could escape any punishment simply by resigning office, the impeachment power would be rendered toothless. If the end of a President’s term meant he or she would never be held politically liable for high crimes or misdemeanors committed while in office, the lame-duck period would pose a serious danger to the stability of the country.

“The vote today was not about President Trump. It was about the Senate retaining jurisdiction to try a former official who was impeached while in office for acts done while in office. The Senate should not be so quick to forever give away its power to take corrective actions that may, at some point, be necessary.  The Legislature must serve as a check on the Executive. Limiting this branch’s authority is not a precedent I will set.”