Accuracy in Media

The ongoing controversy surrounding Supreme Court associate justice Brett Kavanaugh continues almost a year after his confirmation and swearing-in to the highest court in the United States. Recently, a New York Times article claimed there was another sexual misconduct allegation levied against the Justice Kavanaugh dating back to his college days at Yale, which opposing sides disagree on the validity of the recent claims.

The recent claims led Democratic Party presidential candidates to call for impeachment proceedings against Kavanaugh. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), through Twitter, said, “Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached,” which also happens to be a nod to progressive Democratic congressional representatives trying to impeach President Donald Trump. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted, “He must be impeached.” Beto O’Rourke used similar rhetoric and said, “We know he lied under oath. He must be impeached.” Julian Castro added, “[I[t’s clear he lied under oath and he must be impeached.”

The resulting media frenzy ignored the important part of impeachment proceedings: How likely is an impeachment of a sitting Supreme Court justice?

Based on American history, it is extremely unlikely.

According to the website of the Supreme Court of the United States, only one sitting justice has ever been impeached. The website’s frequently-asked-questions section said, “The only Justice to be impeached was Associate Justice Samuel Chase in 1805. The House of Representatives passed Articles of Impeachment against him; however, he was acquitted by the Senate.”

The U.S. Senate’s website noted that Justice Samuel Chase was at odds with the Jeffersonian Republicans, which gained control of Congress in 1801 and Chase made it clear that he opposed Jeffersonian principles as a “staunch Federalist.” The House of Representatives then voted to impeach Chase on March 12, 1804 on the grounds that Chase refused to dismiss biased jurors and that he excluded or limited defense witnesses in two cases.

After the impeachment vote passed in the House, it went to the Senate. The trial began the following year on February 4, 1805 and it resulted in an acquittal of Chase on all counts less than a month later on March 1, 1805. The Senate website pointed out that this vote “effectively insulated the judiciary from further congressional attacks based on disapproval of judges’ opinions.”

In other words, only one sitting justice was impeached by a House of Representatives but not the Senate. Considering that the Democratic Party holds the majority in the House, but not the Senate, a similar result could be expected, if it gets to that point. We also should consider that the Democratic Party is struggling to move impeachment proceedings against Trump, which makes impeachment proceedings against Kavanaugh increasingly unlikely as it would be politically difficult to move two impeachments through Congress at the same time.

Despite the media frenzy and calls for impeachment, it is very unlikely that Kavanaugh will be impeached at this point in time.

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