Is Presidential Impeachment Like a Coup?
It is not uncommon for supporters of a president threatened with impeachment to denounce the proceedings as a kind of coup. There are obvious differences between an impeachment conducted in accord with the terms of a constitution and a lawless military coup, and yet such rhetoric might raise a real claim that the congressional impeachment power, at least relative to an elected president, has fallen into a kind of obsolescence and can no longer be legitimately used. Such constitutional features of indirect democracy as the power of presidential electors to choose a president have fallen into practical illegitimacy despite their continued formal existence as part of the American constitutional scheme. It might be argued that presidential impeachments have fallen into the same status. Moreover, there might well be some particular circumstances in which critics are justified in charging that Congress is attempting to overturn the election results through the abuse of the impeachment power. But consideration of the distinctive features of the constitutional impeachment power should reassure us that in most circumstances the use of the constitutional power to remove a president by congressional action would not be comparable to a coup.
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