In the United States of America, if the House of Representatives passes articles of impeachment against the sitting president, and the Senate finds the president to be guilty, what are the options to punish the president?

It seems like the most likely punishments are the two extremes: a mere "slap on the wrist", or removal from office.

Are there options in between?

  • 4
    What is the "slap on the wrist" you're referring to? Nov 26, 2019 at 22:09
  • 2
    @NuclearWang I assume it refers to being impeached.
    – JJJ
    Nov 26, 2019 at 22:27
  • 6
    Close voters - The title of the question was originally asking too broad/open-ended of a question, but the content seemed fine. I've narrowed the title's scope to match.
    – Bobson
    Nov 26, 2019 at 23:31
  • 2
    @Bobson Yes, it's interesting to see multiple people claiming "This question does not appear to be about governments, policies and political processes within the scope defined in the help center." when it clearly is. Nov 27, 2019 at 3:09
  • @RockPaperLizard - Three of the four close votes are the "predictions for future events" close sub-reason, and the fourth is "too broad". This is definitely on-topic as politics, it's just a question about whether it's actually answerable. And I think it is, now.
    – Bobson
    Nov 27, 2019 at 23:29

5 Answers 5


Wikipedia: Impeachment in the United States - Constitutional Provisions

Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 provides:

The House of Representatives ... shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Article I, Section 3, Clauses 6 and 7 provides:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Article II, Section 2 provides:

[The President] ... shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

Article II, Section 4 provides:

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.

Later on, the Wikipedia article analyzes the punishment as follows.

Conviction immediately removes the defendant from office. Following conviction, the Senate may vote to further punish the individual by barring him or her from holding future federal office, elected or appointed. As the threshold for disqualification is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, the Senate has taken the position that disqualification votes only require a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority. The Senate has used disqualification sparingly, as only three individuals have been disqualified from holding future office.

Conviction does not extend to further punishment, for example, loss of pension. After conviction by the Senate, "the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law" in the regular federal or state courts.

Basically, the only punishment that can apply is to (1) remove the impeached person from office and possibly (2) disqualify them from future office. Any further punishments would come via prosecution in the courts.

  • 26
    But note that the President (or other impeached/removed office holder) could still face criminal charges after leaving office, even if the Senate didn't vote to convict.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 27, 2019 at 5:30
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    The purpose of impeachment is to remove the President from office so that other criminal investigations can take place. Impeachment is not a criminal conviction.
    – Nelson
    Nov 27, 2019 at 7:38
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    @DavidSchwartz As disqualification from holding office is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, I imagine it would be treated like the other constitutional criteria for being able to hold the presidency. That is, the question "What happens if someone disqualified under Article I section 3 clause 7 tries to run for the presidency?" likely would fall along the same lines as "What happens if a 33 year old naturalized person ..." -- But, yeah, it's unprecedented, so it would likely make its way to the Supreme Court if contested.
    – R.M.
    Nov 27, 2019 at 18:48
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    @hszmv: Not quite; of the nineteen individuals impeached by the House of Representatives so far, eight were convicted and removed from office, and three of those eight were also barred from ever again holding federal office (a 37.5% disqualification rate).
    – Vikki
    Nov 27, 2019 at 22:32
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    @Sean: Thanks for the states. Basically, it's happened before with judges and so we have a framework for how the ban from running would function.
    – hszmv
    Dec 2, 2019 at 13:39

If the House of Representatives impeaches, and the Senate convicts, then the President is removed from office. There is no discretion on that point.

The Senate may, on top of this, choose to ban the President from holding any federal office in the future. If they choose not to, there is nothing to prevent him from running for a second term as he would have done anyway.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer. Can you provide references to the claims made in it? Nov 26, 2019 at 22:32
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    Reference: US Constitution, Article II, Section 4.
    – Joe C
    Nov 26, 2019 at 22:36
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    Thanks Joe. I was hung up on USA Constitution Article I, Section 3, which uses the language "shall not extend further than...". As you point out Article II, Section 4 seems to clear that up. Nov 26, 2019 at 22:43

Impeachment is strictly a political process, not a legal one. The only question before Congress is whether the President (or any other impeached official) is fit to hold office or not, and the only "punishment" that comes out of an impeachment proceeding is removal from office (and possible disqualification from holding office in the future). Articles of impeachment are not criminal charges, they're just a list of reasons why the House believes the President is unfit to hold office1.

Any criminal liability would be dealt with separately, after the President has been removed from office, and that would not be done by Congress, which has no authority in criminal matters.

  1. Of course, committing actual crime is a pretty good reason to remove a President from office, so an article of impeachment may reference a criminal act.

  • 1
    I understand what you mean by "is a political process" but not what you mean by "not a legal one". Constitutional law is law, and a process which implements that law is a legal process, so in what way is an impeachment that implements constitutional law not a legal process? Nov 27, 2019 at 16:20
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    @EricLippert: Impeachment doesn't address violations of law or statute, except to the extent that such violations render someone unfit for office. it doesn't result in any sort of legal penalty (fine, jail time, etc.), it does not involve the courts or the Department of Justice. That's what I mean by it not being a legal process.
    – John Bode
    Nov 27, 2019 at 16:37
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    @JohnBode: I think you mean judicial process.
    – MSalters
    Nov 28, 2019 at 7:00

There is more ambiguity here than might otherwise seem apparent. In large part because existing precedents for Senate trials on impeachment create a curious set of procedures and precedents, and it's hard to see any clear consistency on them especially when they impinge on a President. A stark example is that Judge Walter Nixon was impeached, convicted and removed for the offense of lying under oath. Whereas President Clinton was impeached and acquitted less than 20 years later for the same offense: lying under oath. There were many Senators who voted on both such impeachments, and many of those who voted to convict Nixon ultimately voted to acquit Clinton.

Now we can also look at the case of the impeachment of Justice Pickering in 1804. The House impeached him for public drunkenness. The Senate voted 19 to 7 to convict him. The Senate then voted again, this time 20 to 6, to remove him from the court.

This sets a certain precedent that impeachment and conviction in the Senate need not automatically remove the convicted from their position. How does this work with the imperative language of "shall" in Article 2, Section 4? The use of "shall" is used in the constitution for mandatory actions, with rather different language used for optional actions. There are potential resolutions to this, but frankly none of them have been tested. One resolution is that the Senate implicitly did not think this was a conviction for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors", so that the imperative "shall" did not apply. Which sounds reasonable, until you ask under what constitutional provision he was validly impeached in the first place? Clinton's impeachment lawyers would have argued it was the "good behavior" clause describing the term of Justices and federal judges. But why insert this non-explicit back door form of removal with no particular safeguards or protections on its use while also going to pains to enumerate impeachment and all of its safeguards and protections, without mentioning any link between them at all?

Senate precedents are also that the "barred from holding public office" stuff is also done with a separate vote, and only needs a majority: the two-thirds requirement being only applicable to the conviction.

Now imagine that the Senate does much the same thing in a Presidential impeachment trial. They first vote to convict. Supposing they do convict, they then follow their precedent and vote to remove him from office. What does the meaning of that vote become? Imagine in particular that a number of Senators decide that either they don't want to remove the President ("it'd be bad for the nation", which was in fact exactly the rationale given by at least Senator Byrd for why he voted to acquit Clinton despite being convinced he had committed high crimes or misdemeanors, and so likely a rationale used by many acquit voters), or that the very vote is itself unconstitutional because the imperative "shall" has already applied and removed him from office, and so they vote no or abstain, resulting in the vote to remove failing to get even a majority?

Now you're in a dire crisis situation where no one even knows who the President really is. The only hope at that point may be for the Judiciary (SCOTUS in particular) to decide to be decidedly un-Judiciary-like and make a rapid decision on the matter. And by rapid I'm thinking hours or less. What kind of damage could the country undergo when there's uncertainty, and perhaps active conflict, over who holds the power of the Presidency, for days, weeks, or months?

  • BTW, "Rapid decisions" are not really that un-judiciary-like. That's exactly what injunctions are for, for example. An injunction weighs the harm caused by delaying a decision against the harm caused by not following due process. The basic premise behind an injunction is that a speedy decision is so overwhelmingly important that following due process might do more harm than good. Nov 28, 2019 at 10:52
  • @JörgWMittag Not sure even those could come out in a matter of hours, but fair point. However, it's not even clear how much respect people would pay to the injunction here. It's unclear if the courts even have the power to effect an injunction at the level of the Presidency itself. And there's the severity of a potential power struggle between two claimants to the powers of the Presidency. I mean, hopefully the Senate sees this coming and never creates such a situation in the first place, but it's theoretically possible as-stands. Nov 28, 2019 at 22:23
  • Regarding Nixon and Clinton on perjury, Nixon was convicted for lying about intervening in a criminal prosecution whereas Clinton was acquitted for lying about a consensual extramarital affair. The former is much more obviously a "high crime or misdemeanor." Regarding injunctions against the president, courts issue them all the time. Senate precedent (more recent than Pickering) is that a vote for conviction results automatically in removal; there is a separate vote only on the question of disqualification.
    – phoog
    Nov 29, 2019 at 15:52

Any punishment as assigned by the courts

The immediate consequence of an impeachment process is removal from office for "high crimes and misdemeanors" and possibly a prohibition from holding office.

However, this also means that any immunity ceases to apply, and right after that, criminal charges can be brought against the ex-President for these same crimes and misdemeanors in the ordinary legal process, which can result in any legal punishment as deemed appropriate - but that punishment (and establishing guilt) is not for politicians to decide, it's for the judicial system.

  • ...And hopefully the USA's judicial system has not become just another extension of the politicians... because if that has happened, then the balance of power designed in the USA's Constitution has become nullified, and then what? Nov 29, 2019 at 11:00
  • The question seems to be asking about punishments that can be imposed as a consequence of conviction on the articles of impeachment, not about subsequent prosecution.
    – phoog
    Nov 29, 2019 at 15:28

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