12

Background

In the United States, the Chief Justice presides over the impeachment trial of a President, which happens inside the Senate. He has some powers as laid out in the first answer to this question. However, any of his judgments may be overruled if a formal vote is called to that end, according to the Senate Guidelines for Impeachment:

Under some circumstances the Senate may overrule the Chief Justice.

VII. The Presiding Officer of the Senate shall direct all necessary preparations in the Senate Chamber, and the Presiding Officer on the trial shall direct all the forms of proceedings while the Senate is sitting for the purpose of trying an impeachment, and all forms during the trial not otherwise specially provided for. And the Presiding Officer on the trial may rule on all questions of evidence including, but not limited to, questions of relevancy, materiality, and redundancy of evidence and incidental questions, which ruling shall stand as the judgment of the Senate, unless some Member of the Senate shall ask that a formal vote be taken thereon, in which case it shall be submitted to the Senate for decision without debate; or he may at his option, in the first instance, submit any such question to a vote of the Members of the Senate. Upon all such questions the vote shall be taken in accordance with the Standing Rules of the Senate.

Question

When a "formal vote" to override the judgment of the Chief Justice is called, how many Senators must vote in favor of the judgment override for the judgment to be overridden?

6

How many Senators must vote to override specific judgments of the Chief Justice in an impeachment trial of the President?

A simple majority.


During the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, there were several examples of the Senate voting on questions of relevancy, materiality, and redundancy of evidence and incidental questions, which were all decided by a majority. It should be noted that much of the current rule 7 was developed during the trial and at least one issue included a vote by the Chief Justice to break a tie.

Had you on the evening before seen General Thomas? * * * Had you a communication with him?

Answer. Yes sir.

Mr. Stanbery objected, and the Chief Justice ruled that the testimony was competent and would be heard "unless the Senate think otherwise."

To this ruling Mr. Drake objected and appealed from the decision of the Chair to the Senate. It appeared to be not to the ruling per se, that Mr. Drake objected, but to the right of the Chair to rule at all upon the admissibility of testimony. Mr. Drake representing the extremists of the dominant side of the Chamber. There seemed to be apprehension of the effect upon the Senate of the absolute judicial fairness of the rulings of the Chief Justice, and the great weight they would naturally have, coming from so just and eminent a jurist. After discussion, Mr. Wilson moved that the Senate retire for consultation.

The vote on this motion was a tie, being twenty-five for and twenty-five against retiring, whereupon the Chief Justice announced the fact of a tie and voted "yea;" and the Senate retired to its consultation room, where, after discussion and repeated suggestions of amendment to the rules, the following resolution was offered by Mr. Henderson:

Resolved, That rule 7 be amended by substituting therefor the following:

The presiding officer of the Senate shall direct all necessary preparations in the Senate Chamber, and the presiding officer in the trial shall direct all the forms of proceeding while the Senate are sitting for the purpose of trying an impeachment, and all forms during the trial not otherwise provided for. And the presiding officer on the trial may rule all questions of of evidence and incidental questions, which ruling shall stand as the judgment of the Senate, unless some member of the Senate shall ask that a formal vote be taken thereon, in which case it shall be submitted to the Senate for decision; or he may, at his option, in the first instance, submit any such question to a vote of the members of the Senate.

The amendment by Mr. Henderson was adopted.

Amendments attempting to prevent the Chief Justice from ruling on questions of law and from voting on ties were rejected.


During the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton there were a few motions to suspend the rules. A Motion to Suspend the Rules requires a two-thirds vote. Such motions are intended to alter the procedures used by the Senate. See Senate Rules XXII 2 "... except on a measure or motion to amend the Senate rules, in which case the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting ...".


Article I, Section 3

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.


In summary, for impeachment trials of the president, it requires two-thirds of the Senators present to vote for conviction and for any procedural changes that relate to rules; otherwise, a simple majority, which may include a vote by the Chief Justice, in the case of a tie.

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  • Interesting....so it is the Chief Justice who breaks a tie in votes like these. – isakbob Dec 17 '19 at 21:19
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    @isakbob - For an override of the CJ, a tie vote fails; that is, not overridden. For other matters, the CJ may vote to break the tie, or let the matter fail. It is not required that the CJ vote. – Rick Smith Dec 17 '19 at 21:24
  • That conclusively answers another question I had: Who breaks the tie in "override of the CJ" votes? None apparently, but tie's may be broken by the CJ if it's not related to overriding the CJ. – isakbob Dec 18 '19 at 15:41
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On page 81 of The Senate Guidelines for Impeachment, it says that a majority vote is required in procedural matters, but for Conviction a two-thirds majority vote is required. This two-thirds majority refers only to Senate members present in the Chamber, rather than two-thirds of all elected members.

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    Two-thirds should be understood from above: 2/3 of 100 (full senate) is 66.66666.... and it means 67 senators. On the other hand, 2/3 of 99 (full minus one) is 66, as well as two-thirds of 98, 97. Two-thirds of 96, 95, 94 is 64. And so on. – Bazin Dec 17 '19 at 10:40
  • And remember that there's a minimum number of votes that must be cast for the 2/3 rule to lead to a valid vote. So in theory a large enough number of senators can fail to show up, causing an impeachment vote to be impossible. – jwenting Jan 8 at 10:10
  • @jwenting What is the minimum for a quorum? – Michael Richardson Jan 16 at 22:53

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