Article 2, Section 4 of the US Constitution states:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

This clause apparently lays out the requirements for removing a US Office, and requires that the Officer being impeached commit "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors".

Does that clause mean that that the FULL EXTENT AND LIMIT of impeachable offenses are those listed?

For example suppose a Party managed to gain control of 2/3 of the Senate and the House and they decided to impeach a sitting President of another Party for purely political purposes. I.e. the President did nothing, but the Congress impeached anyway, or the Congress invented some specious charge to justify the impeachment.

In that case could the Supreme Court overturn an Impeachment?

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    I would also suggest that the answer clarify the terms of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" or is it any felony or misdemeanor? Additionally as history points out, Bill Clinton was impeached but acquitted. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_of_Bill_Clinton
    – john
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 7:38
  • 4
    I think you are misinterpreting the word "misdemeanors", reading in its most common modern usage as a minor crime. But its older use, and I think (though I'm by no means a Constitutional scholar) what is meant in the impeachment clause, is simply "bad behavior towards others". (I will refrain from citing current examples :-)) See for instance merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misdemeanor
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 16:47
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    @jamesqf More specifically, the term is high misdemeanor, which is more or less synonymous with "abuse of office". Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 5:17
  • @chrylis: Yes. Exactly the term I should have used!
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 17:11
  • "Does that clause mean that that the FULL EXTENT AND LIMIT of impeachable offenses are those listed?" This question is a duplicate and has already been answered. politics.stackexchange.com/questions/9677/…
    – John
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 17:19

3 Answers 3


In Walter L. Nixon v. United States (unrelated to President Richard Nixon), the court held that the judiciary could not review impeachment proceedings. According to the constitution, the House has the "sole power of impeachment" and the Senate has the "sole power to try all impeachments." The Supreme Court considered this sufficient evidence that the framers did not want the judiciary involved. Further, because judges themselves can be impeached, it would violate separation of powers to allow them to review such cases.

  • In response to this I would point out that despite the 6th Amendment guaranteeing a right to a Trial By Jury, convictions (or aquittals) reached by a Jury are regularly overturned by Higher Courts on procedural or technical bases. Why would it not be valid for a Court to do the same for an Impeachment?
    – user23920
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 18:54
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    @Agustus I believe the idea is that a trial is conducted by the judiciary branch, and is thus subject to their review. However, an impeachment is conducted by the legislative branch, and thus not under their purview. Also, an impeachment is not a trial. It is similar to one, but it cannot result in the loss of life, liberty, or property. All it does is remove the person from office. Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 19:36
  • @Agustus Overturning the result of a trial does not deprive anyone of the right to have a trial. A decision has to become final at some point and before that it's not final and after that it is. There's no appealing a ruling of the Supreme Court but there is from lower courts. You can think of appeals as part of the trial process that you are entitled to. For judicial trials, the Supreme Court is the ultimate authority. For impeachments, it's Congress. Impeachments have to have a different ultimate authority from trials because they're functions of a different branch of government. Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 21:54
  • @David Shwartz I would disagree with you that overturning a Jury Verdict doesn't infringe upon rights - what then was the point of the trial and the Jury if the decision was not final? In any case I don't think it is acceptable practice for a Judge to deliver a new verdict based on the same evidence, verdicts are overturned for technical or fairness reasons only, resulting in a Mistrial.
    – user23920
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 1:21
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    @Agustus "convictions (or aquittals) reached by a Jury are regularly overturned by Higher Courts on procedural or technical bases": this is incorrect. Acquittals cannot be overturned on appeal. A jury trial is a protection for the accused against capricious action by a judge. If the person is acquitted, there's no more need for that protection. Also, appellate courts generally do not render verdicts; they vacate the lower court's ruling and tell the lower court to reconsider and make a new ruling.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 4:23

Other answers have covered whether SCOTUS can overrule and impeachment and/or conviction of the President, so I won't rehash that. As to the other part....

Does that clause mean that that the FULL EXTENT AND LIMIT of impeachable offenses are those listed (Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors)?

Yes, but it doesn't matter.

Treason? Distinctly defined.

Bribery? Also a specific crime.

"other high Crimes and Misdemeanors?" (emphasis added) - pretty indistinct, so it means "and anything Congress thinks would merit removal." The feeling was that it was intentionally left vague so any serious abuses of office or powers that the Founders were unable to remember to list, exhaustively, or anticipate ("they forgot about playing Nickelback over the White House PA system!"), would not get a free pass. The idea was probably that Congress wouldn't abuse their powers in this regard in trivial partisan fashion, so they left it a bit open-ended and up to Congressional discretion.

So, you know, the Founding Fathers might have underestimated the pettiness of future generations, to a certain degree.

Here's some reading on the broad range of how people have tried to interpret the phrase "other high crimes and misdemeanors" -

Slate: What Are High Crimes and Misdemeanors?

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    There is also the fact that impeachment is not a criminal mater. As the greatest penalty that can be assesed is removal from office and a ban on future service. No imprisonment, fines or denial of civil rights. If the President is impeached for a truly trivial reason, then most likely the members responsible will not be reelected. And with 2 year House terms, that is a fairly fast feedback loop for politics.
    – GB - AE7OO
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 13:19

To better clarify Nixon v. United States that @eyeballfrog mentioned, SCOTUS found that impeachment is a purely political matter, not a legal matter, and thus SCOTUS cannot rule (Though they can rule on the question of "Can they rule on impeachment" which does ask a legal question, the answer is "No, we cannot rule on an impeachment"). For a less politically contensious restriction, the question of "Are we at war?" is also considered a Political Question and the Courts have no power to rule on the legality of the proper authorities to declare a particular war on another nation.

Thus, Impeachments are all about politics, however of the two impeachments of the President, both were decided in favor of the President. In fact, the impeachment of President Johnson was decided by one vote (by a Democrat Breaking Ranks) who concluded that the charges were drummed up to justify a political removal by Impeachment, not one for behavior unbecoming of the office.

It's suspected, though not known for sure, that an overtly political impeachment of the President is going to go badly for the Party opposed to the President, the voting public would be upset by the move. While Nixon (Yes, the more famous one) was never impeached, his resignation came when he learned that the Impeachment charges had gotten out of House Committee and had enough votes to clear the house and make it to the senate, where the vote tally to impeach over Watergate had been known for much longer.

  • Re "It's suspected...": by who?
    – agc
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 15:27

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