Re: From the Union of Concerned Scientists

From: Bill Barowy (
Date: Sat Feb 21 2004 - 12:39:21 PST

The use of historical precedent is traditional to the interpretation of legal
documents. Here's something to be found on the GPO server, under Analysis
and Interpretation of the Constitution. The shortcut to Article 2 is below
with some relevant text. A link to the search engine appears at the bottom.

 The Johnson Impeachment.--President Johnson was impeached by the
House on the ground that he had violated the ``Tenure of Office''
Act\775\ by dismissing a Cabinet chief. The theory of the proponents of
impeachment was succinctly put by Representative Butler, one of the
managers of the impeachment in the Senate trial. ``An impeachable high
crime or misdemeanor is one in its nature or consequences subversive of
some fundamental or essential principle of government or highly
prejudicial to the public interest, and this may consist of a violation
of the Constitution, of law, of an official oath, or of duty, by an act
committed or omitted, or, without violating a positive law, by the abuse
of discretionary powers from improper motives or for an improper
purpose.''\776\ Former Justice Benjamin Curtis controverted this
argument, saying: ``My first position is, that when the Constitution
speaks of `treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors,' it
refers to, and includes only, high criminal offences against the United
States, made so by some law of the United States existing when the acts
complained of were done, and I say that this is plainly to be inferred
from each and every provision of the Constitution on the subject of
impeachment.''\777\ The President's acquittal by a single vote was no
doubt not the result of a choice between the two theories, but the
result may be said to have placed a gloss on the impeachment language
approximating the theory of the defense.

The 1992 edition is searchable by keyword at:

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