Impeachment season is underway across America.
For the second presidency in a row, a U.S. House of Representatives majority is plotting an effort to legally cancel the opposing party’s White House. GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week said he’s directing a House committee to open an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden, presumably in a bid to even the score for Donald Trump’s bitter election loss, his past impeachments, his current indictments, or all the above.
Even more striking: Impeachment enthusiasm ranges far beyond Washington. In a period of ever-fiercer partisan hardball, some statehouse majorities have been eying their own constitution’s impeachment clauses for a blunt instrument to wield against their rivals.
The most unusual of potential impeachments may be unfolding in Wisconsin. The Republican-controlled Assembly there is considering steps toward removing Justice Janet Protasiewicz, who was elected to that state’s top court in April but has yet to even rule on any cases. In August, the court’s 4-3 liberal majority was asked to hear several cases involving the state’s legislative district maps.
Protasiewicz has reportedly called the state’s current maps “rigged,” which wouldn’t be an exotic observation in any state. She reportedly declined to say during the election how she’d rule on a relevant upcoming case. She also hasn’t said whether she’d recuse herself from hearing the lawsuit.
If the GOP in Madison uses impeachment to gain a judicial edge on redistricting, the approach if not the goal would differ from that of Democrats who rule the roost in Albany. State senators earlier this year took unorthodox steps to put in charge of the Court of Appeals a judge whose prior opinion on redistricting they liked. The court is due to hear arguments on a big redistricting case in November.
Impeachments are a different kind of affair when members of a party act to remove one of their own.
In May, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was impeached in the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives by a 121—23 vote. Allegations involved preferential treatment to a campaign contributor who allegedly bribed him, false statements, and obstructing justice in a long-lived securities fraud prosecution against him. Paxton is the Trump ally who tried and failed to void 2020 election results in four states other than Texas.
Last week, Paxton was acquitted by his state’s Republican-run Senate. Twenty-one “yes” votes would have been required for conviction on any of the 16 charges. The chamber has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
Paxton, in Trump-like fashion, declined to attend the proceedings which he derided as a “kangaroo court.” Next year, Paxton’s friends told reporters, they will target GOP lawmakers who led the probe against him.
Two years ago, New York saw Democratic majority lawmakers explore impeachment against Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo before he resigned amid what amounted to a rebellion by players in a party he headed for a decade.
Impeachment decisions and the factual circumstances behind them differ, of course. President Bill Clinton, like Trump, was impeached but acquitted and finished his term. President Richard Nixon before them resigned midway into his second term facing impeachment due to the Watergate cover-up scandal.
Will impeachment be deployed more casually going forward? If so, that’s a bleak trend. Retroactively nullifying the choice of voters — which is what impeachment does — cannot be a healthy habit for politicians to form just for the sake of the power game.
n COLUMNIST DAN JANISON’S opinions are his own.