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What Happens After Impeachment? How the Senate Trial Works

November 26, 2019 in History

By Dave Roos

A Senate impeachment trial is modeled on the criminal trial process—except the Supreme Court chief justice presides and senators act as jurors.

Impeachment is when the House of Representatives votes by a simple majority to approve one or more articles of impeachment. But what happens next? Both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached in 1868 and 1999 respectively, but both served out the rest of their terms. In fact, no president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Richard Nixon arguably came the closest, but he resigned midway through the impeachment process.

The only way for Congress to remove a sitting president is to find him or her guilty during a Senate trial. In that trial, which comes after the House votes to approve articles of impeachment, the Chief Justice of the United States presides and the 100 members of the Senate serve as the jury. A full two-thirds of the Senate jurors present needs to vote “guilty” for a president to be convicted.

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution gives the Senate “sole power to try all impeachments” and sets forth three requirements that underscore the seriousness of an impeachment trial: 1) senators are put under oath; 2) the Chief Justice presides, not the vice president; and 3) a two-thirds “supermajority” is required to convict.

Impeachment Trial Operates Like a Criminal Trial

The impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the Senate on March 13, 1868.

The Senate impeachment trial operates much like a criminal trial. The prosecution in an impeachment trial is represented by “impeachment managers” from the House of Representatives who get the first chance to present their evidence to the Senate.

According to Senate rules first established for Johnson’s 1868 impeachment trial, everyone in the Senate chamber is required to keep absolute silence, “on pain of imprisonment,” as the House managers make their case against the president.

The president’s defense team then presents its opening arguments followed by the calling of witnesses. Both sides can call witnesses and cross-examine the opposing party’s witnesses. Senators can be called as witnesses, too, and actually testify standing at their desk in the chamber.

Senators Act as Jurors

Can the president be called as a witness in his or her own impeachment trial? Yes, either side can call the president as a witness in the Senate trial, but the president …read more