The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the Senate during an impeachment trial of the President of the United States.

My question is... what exactly does that mean? Does he just have to sit there while the senators talk? Does he have any actual power to do anything? Do the senators have to obey? If he doesn't have any power then what difference does his presence make? etc.


Chapter 1: The Senate's Impeachment Role :

Impeachment is a very serious affair. This power of Congress is the ultimate weapon against officials of the federal government, and is a fundamental component of the constitutional system of “checks and balances.” In impeachment proceedings, the House of Representatives charges an official by approving, by majority vote, articles of impeachment. A committee of representatives, called “managers,” acts as prosecutors before the Senate. The Senate Chamber serves as the courtroom. The Senate becomes jury and judge, except in the case of presidential impeachment trials when the chief justice of the United States presides. The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict, and the penalty for an impeached official is removal from office. In some cases, disqualification from holding future offices is also imposed. There is no appeal.

[Emphasis added to highlight the roles.]

Essentially, the Chief Justice becomes a trial court judge and will do all those things a trial court judge would do and with power subject to rules of the Senate. The rules appear quite similar to a common trial and are covered, below, in the RULES OF PROCEDURE ....

The following RULES OF PROCEDURE ... refer to the Presiding Officer of the Senate. The following clarifies who that person is during the impeachment trial.

Presiding Officer of the United States Senate:

When the Senate hears an impeachment trial of the President of the United States, by the procedure established in the Constitution, the Chief Justice is designated as the presiding officer.


Role of Chief Justice in impeachment trial

Under some circumstances the Senate may overrule the Presiding officer.

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Power of the Chief Justice during impeachment trial and defense.

Power of Presiding Officer

Conclusion of the trial, final vote:

Final vote on impeachment trial

As stated above: There is no appeal. Furthermore, the Presiding Officer of the Senate (in this case, the Chief Justice) cannot overrule the vote.

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    @Mehrdad - There is a lot of detail in the RULES Of PROCEDURE; but it appears that rules of the Senate rather than rule of law is used. I have yet to find any reference to defense, for example. – Rick Smith Jun 13 at 1:19
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    If you look at Rehnquist's turn presiding over Clinton's trial, it's rather more like being a parliamentary presiding officer than it is like being a judge. – phoog Jun 13 at 2:12
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    I believe the answer could be completed by looking to the senate trial of Johnson. If I am not mistaken the Chief Justice (Chase?) made several rulings during the trial, several of which the Senate overrode. Rehnquist, by contrast, also made several rulings but was not overridden on any of them. – zibadawa timmy Jun 13 at 6:45
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    @zibadawatimmy - While Impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the article's reference to Trial of Impeachment are interesting, the OP's question is phrased in the present tense. The role of the Chief Justice hasn't changed, but the Senate rules have changed. Some of what happened in 1868 would violate the current rules. – Rick Smith Jun 13 at 12:22
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    @RickSmith True, but it nevertheless helps address (in my opinion) OP's question on whether or not the CJ does what the Senate says, or the Senate does what the CJ says. Which is that the Johnson impeachment suggests that the Senate is the ultimate authority (though this cuts both ways as you suggest, and the Senate will also be bound to abide by its own rules for exercising that, or even for changing those rules), but Clinton's impeachment suggests that deference may be given to the CJ, at least in the modern/current setting. – zibadawa timmy Jun 13 at 13:06

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