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Since the Vice President is also president of the Senate, what mechanism is there to prevent him from presiding over his own impeachment trial?

Article I.3 makes no specific mention of this.

Does a federal law cover this situation?

  • It is worth noting that there is no historical precedent to govern this situation as there has never been an impeachment of a Vice President in U.S. history. Also even though the President does not have the power to fire a Vice President, a VP would likely resign at the request of a sitting President in the event of a controversy that could lead to an impeachment of the VP. – ohwilleke Oct 15 '18 at 0:16
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The constitution is not explicit on this point.

If the VP is "absent" a president pro tempore is chosen (in practice the VP is nearly always absent) If the VP is on trial, this would prevent them from presiding; they would be "in the dock" so necessarily absent from the chair, and a president pro tempore would be chosen.

Having the VP preside at their own impeachment would be absurd. The Constitution is intended to be read in accordance with Common sense. "Ain't no rule says a dog can't be president". But we are expected to use a little common sense.

Mike Rappaort considers the omission of a direct instruction that the VP should not preside over their own trial to be a "textual mistake",

But when one of the textual mistakes is an absurdity, one can depart.

I think that if a VP were to be impeached, the senate would ask the chief justice to preside. They are required to do this for a Presidential impeachment trial, and I think they would want to have a Judge present for a VP trial too. The Senate is permitted to appoint anyone to preside, it does not have to be a Senator.

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  • Surely the US follows the Nemo iudex in causa sua principle. I can't find it in official documents for this case though. For judges, it's called judicial impartiality (see canon 3c). – JJ for Transparency and Monica Oct 13 '18 at 22:30
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    (Actually, the rule requiring the president be at least thirty-five years old effectively does say a dog can’t be president...) ;) – KRyan Oct 14 '18 at 2:31
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    @KRyan But wouldn't "dog years" apply for a dog candidate? – Michael Richardson Oct 14 '18 at 4:37
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    @KRyan Wait until we can fly in space at a high enough speed... send the dog for a 35 years trip at almost the speed of light and we can finally have a dog president. – Bakuriu Oct 14 '18 at 13:37
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There is no need for federal or constitutional law excluding the VP. The Senate is a parliamentary body. It is competent to make and enforce its own rules, as provided in Article 1 Section 5 of the Constitution:

[...] Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a member. [...]

It is highly unlikely that any part of the judicial system would be willing to review the constitutionality of the Senate appointing someone other than the VP to preside. It would be a political question, rather than a legal question. See Nixon v. United States (no, not that Nixon) for an example of a defendant challenging a different aspect of the Senate's impeachment proceedings (and losing on this basis).

As a result, if the Senate passed a rule by simple majority excluding the VP, that would likely be the end of it regardless of alleged unconstitutionality. Even assuming arguendo that such an appointment were unconstitutional, there would be no means of judicial review and so the appointment would stick regardless.

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    The Senate and its proceedings are not wholly immune from judicial overview. They are not allowed to make rules which are explicitly unconstitutional. They could not make a rule that says "Only white men may preside". The courts would hold that as a violation of constitutional prohibitions on discrimination by race and gender. Curiously, it may take time for the rule to actually be struck down, as you'd need someone the courts would rule has standing to do so. But "the winner of a round robin game of chutes and ladders shall preside" would likely be non-justiciable. – zibadawa timmy Oct 14 '18 at 6:46
  • @zibadawatimmy: The Constitution's protections against racial discrimination require "equal protection of the laws" (in the 14th amendment, which the Supreme Court has reverse-incorporated against the feds). But Senate rules are not laws at all, so it's unclear whether the Senate is so constrained. I would be surprised if a court took such a case unless the violation was abundantly clear, which this isn't. – Kevin Oct 14 '18 at 16:49

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