You can see the text of the article here:


Here's the relevant part for this post:

  1. Suits by Comptroller General
    If, under this chapter, budget authority is required to be made available for obligation and such budget authority is not made available for obligation, the Comptroller General is hereby expressly empowered, through attorneys of his own selection, to bring a civil action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to require such budget authority to be made available for obligation, and such court is hereby expressly empowered to enter in such civil action, against any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States, any decree, judgment, or order which may be necessary or appropriate to make such budget authority available for obligation. No civil action shall be brought by the Comptroller General under this section until the expiration of 25 calendar days of continuous session of the Congress following the date on which an explanatory statement by the Comptroller General of the circumstances giving rise to the action contemplated has been filed with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate.

I am seeing a lot of arguments online saying that the only penalties for violation of the impoundment control are civil actions... and point to 687 in the article. This is used as an argument that the violation of ICA can't be used to impeach the president and that there can be no criminal penalties for violating the ICA.

This seems to be a big mistake to me as the civil actions in 687 are for the purpose of releasing money that's being held... not for the purpose of penalizing violators of the ICA. 687 says nothing about whether or not violators of the ICA should be punished or what the penalties should be.

My interpretation is that the punishment for violating the ICA is not discussed within the ICA itself... Have I got it wrong?

So the potential criminal penalty for violating the ICA would have to be decided elsewhere right? like in the courts? So couldn't the courts decide what criminal liabilities there are?

Or are there no penalties for violating the ICA?

Appreciate any clarification.

1 Answer 1


Violations of laws are not always crimes. For example if you park your car in a tow-away zone, that is not a crime. For a violation of the parking laws, you won't go to jail (which would be a punishment), but the government might move your car (a remedy) and/or insist you pay a fine (a penalty.)

So yes, you might say there are no penalties (or punishments) for violation of the impound control act. Such violations are not crimes or misdemeanors.

Furthermore, under the U.S. constitution, impeachment is reserved for high crimes (and high misdemeanors), yet a conviction under an impeachment can never result in a penalty or punishment, only removal from office. If an official is removed for a crime, they then might be subject to criminal prosecution, but that would be an entirely separate step.

Suggested reading: table of contents of the U.S. Code, and of title 18, part 1, where most federal crimes are defined.

  • Thanks for the answer. So other than title 18 of the US code... if there aren't penalties mentioned in the code, could someone just repeatedly violate that law without consequence? Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 4:14
  • 1
    Not necessarily, consequences could include a broad range of effects. Consider a restraining order. If a judge orders you to stop doing something, like park in a space reserved for him, and you ignore it, there can be consequences for contempt. But that is a special case... Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 4:59
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    @AmeetSharma some crimes are defined in other titles. For example, some (most? all?) immigration crimes are defined in title 8. The ICA could specify criminal penalties, but it doesn't (apparently; I haven't read it). Contrary to the reasoning in this answer, willfully violating the ICA could be considered impeachable because it is arguably a violation of the oath of office.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 15:07
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    I am happy to assume for the sake of argument that the ICA imposes no penalties and creates no criminal offense. It doesn't matter. The high crime or misdemeanor lies in the president's failure to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed," which is a constitutional duty. It is plain from the history of the constitutional convention (and of English and British impeachment before that) that an offense need not be a statutory crime to qualify as impeachable; failure to do one's duty is sufficient. Disregarding the law is grounds for impeachment even when it is not a crime.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 18:48
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    @Burt_Harris the constitution is quite clear that impeachment is not intended to be a sole remedy in cases where no other remedy exists. But since you've invoked explicit due process requirements provided in the law, I'll have a look... and the first thing I see is "Nothing contained in this Act, or in any amendments made by this Act, shall be construed as (1) asserting or conceding the constitutional powers or limitations of either the Congress or the President, (2) ...". So the act explicitly does not exclude impeachment as a mechanism of enforcement.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 19:48

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