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Can a US Supreme Court justice be impeached and removed from office?
In: US Constitution, Supreme Court, US Congress
Under normal circumstances, a Supreme Court justice is awarded a lifetime commission.
A Supreme Court Justice may be impeached by the House of Representatives and removed from office if convicted in a Senate trial, but only for the same types of offenses that would trigger impeachment proceedings for any other government official under Articles I and II of the Constitution.
Article III, Section 1 states that judges of Article III courts shall hold their offices "during good behavior." "The phrase "good behavior" has been interpreted by the courts to equate to the same level of seriousness 'high crimes and misdemeanors" encompasses.
In addition, any federal judge may prosecuted in the criminal courts for criminal activity. If found guilty of a crime in a federal district court, the justice would face the same type of sentencing any other criminal defendant would. The district court could not remove him/her from the Bench. However, any justice found guilty in the criminal courts of any felony would certainly be impeached and, if found guilty, removed from office.
In the United States, impeachment is most often used to remove corrupt lower-court federal judges from office, but it's not unusual to find disgruntled special interest groups circulating petitions on the internet calling for the impeachment of one or all members of the High Court.
The Impeachment Process
Impeachment is a two-step process; the impeachment phase is similar to a Grand Jury hearing, where charges (called "articles of impeachment") are presented and the House of Representatives determines whether the evidence is sufficient to warrant a trial. If the House vote passes by a simple majority, the defendant is "impeached," and proceeds to trial in the Senate.
The House of Representatives indicts the accused on articles of impeachment, and, if impeached, the Senate conducts a trial to determine the party's guilt or innocence.
The Senate trial, while analogous to a criminal trial, only convenes for the purpose of determining whether a Justice, the President (or another officeholder) should be removed from office on the basis of the evidence presented at impeachment.
At the trial a committee from the House of Representatives, called "Managers," act as the prosecutors. Per constitutional mandate (Article I, Section 3), the Chief Justice of the United States (Supreme Court) must preside over the Senate trial of the President. If any other official is on trial, an "Impeachment Trial Committee" of Senators act as the presiding judges to hear testimony and evidence against the accused, which is then presented as a report to the remained of the Senate. The full Senate no longer participates in the hearing phase of the removal trial. This procedure came into practice in 1986 when the Senate amended its rules and procedures for impeachment and has been contested by several federal court judges, but the Supreme Court has declined to interfere in the process, calling the issue a political, not legal, matter.
At the conclusion of the trial, the full Senate votes and must return a two-thirds Super Majority for conviction. Convicted officials are removed from office immediately and barred from holding future office. The Senate trial, while analogous to a criminal trial, only convenes for the purpose of determining whether a Justice, the President (or another officeholder) should be removed from office on the basis of the evidence presented at impeachment.
Impeachment and Near Impeachment
Only one Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Chase (one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence), has ever been impeached. The House of Representatives accused Chase of letting his Federalist political leanings affect his rulings, and served him with eight articles of impeachment in late 1804. The Senate acquitted him of all charges in 1805, establishing the right of the judiciary to independent opinion. Chase continued on the Court until his death in June 1811.
In 1957, at the height of McCarthyism, the Georgia General Assembly passed a joint resolution calling for "The Impeachment of Certain U.S. Supreme Court Justices" believed to be enabling Communism with their decisions. The resolution targeted Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Tom Campbell Clark, Felix Frankfurter, and Stanley Forman Reed (as well as several unnamed deceased Justices) for "...[usurping] the congressional power to make law in violation of Article I, Sections I and 8, and violated Sections 3 and 5 of the 14th Amendment and nullified the 10th Amendment of the Constitution."