Opinion editor’s note: This article was submitted on behalf of multiple legal scholars at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law. They are listed below.
Last week, we joined more than 800 of our colleagues from around the country and signed a “Letter to Congress from Legal Scholars” (tinyurl.com/legal-scholars). This letter concluded that President Donald Trump engaged in impeachable conduct.
Also last week, the U.S. House announced that it will bring two articles of impeachment against President Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. This will set in motion the third impeachment of a U.S. president in history.
In light of these extraordinary events, we are writing separately to reiterate to our local community why, as legal scholars, we believe that President Trump engaged in impeachable conduct. We also write to explain why, as citizens, we believe that he should be impeached.
The evidence is overwhelming and largely undisputed. Trump attempted to meddle in the 2020 election by coercing a foreign government to investigate his most likely opponent, Joe Biden. Trump held up congressionally approved taxpayer funding to Ukraine until the new Ukrainian president did Trump’s bidding — agreed to do what Trump called a “favor.” That favor was to announce that Ukraine was investigating Biden and his son. Trump engaged in a blatant misuse of power, ignoring his presidential oath of office, by demanding a personal payoff from a foreign government. Trump’s actions imperil our framework for holding free and fair elections and jeopardize our national security.
While the legal scholars’ letter did not address the obstruction of Congress issue, the evidence is also clear that President Trump has engaged in unprecedented defiance of lawfully issued subpoenas, denying a coequal branch of government its constitutional right to documents and witness testimony.
We are cognizant that our democracy allows voters to pass judgment on our presidents every four years. In general, this system of accountability functions well. It holds presidents responsible to the electorate for their actions. But the framers understood the vast power of the presidential office. They recognized that any particular person holding the office could abuse that power in ways that constitute an immediate and ongoing threat. It is for this reason that they created the mechanism of impeachment. Impeachment exists as a safeguard against precisely the kinds of misconduct at issue, where a president subverts the rule of law and pursues self-interest at the expense of the republic.
In the present case, we believe impeachment is not only warranted but essential. The integrity of our democratic process would be shattered if a president were allowed to wield the power of his office to subvert foreign policy and thereby enlist foreign governments to intercede in his re-election. If President Trump is not held accountable for his conduct, he may feel emboldened to do it again. As he has already said, he believes his call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect.” Without the threat of being expelled from office, nothing will stop him from continuing his course.
It’s important to note that impeachment is a process, not an outcome. It is a rule-bound, methodical system for investigating a president, hearing evidence, and determining if the chief executive has engaged in misconduct warranting removal from office. The ultimate decision about whether to remove a sitting president from office rests with the Senate. Even if the impeachment of President Trump fails to produce a conviction in the Senate, however, the scrutiny of the process itself can uphold the constitutional order. The impeachment process forces the president and the country to evaluate the details of his behaviors in a public and open forum.
Our country deserves this process. Our democracy requires it.
This article was signed by Henry Allen Blair, Senior Fellow, Dispute Resolution Institute, and Robins Kaplan Distinguished Professor of Law; James Coben, senior fellow, Dispute Resolution Institute, and professor of law; Mark Edwards, Austin J. and Caroline M. Baillon Chair in Real Estate Law and professor of law; Marie Failinger, Judge Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Professor of Law; Carolyn Grose, director of skills integration and professor of law; Jim Hilbert, senior fellow, Dispute Resolution Institute, and professor of law; Eric S. Janus, professor of law; Mehmet Konar-Steenberg, Briggs & Morgan/Xcel Energy Chair in Energy and Environmental Law and professor of law; David Allen Larson, senior fellow, Dispute Resolution Institute, and John H. Faricy Law Professor in Empirical Research; Raleigh Hannah Levine, James E. Kelley Chair in Tort Law and professor of law; Daniel Pi, visiting assistant professor of law; Denise Roy, director, externships, and professor of law; and Michael K. Steenson, director, Law Review, and Larry and Christine Bell Distinguished Professor of Law.