Teaching Impeachment is a Current Issue – Again

Author: Dr. Emily Stacey of Rose State College

It has been a great year. 2021 certainly began with a bang. The four Wednesdays of January brought extreme emotions and political action. The Democratically-led House of Representatives presented a single Article of Impeachment to the Senate against former President Donald Trump regarding incitement of the crowd following the breach of the U.S. Capitol. Five people were killed in the violence that erupted in Washington D.C. as a result of this. Therefore, Political Science teachers must now teach impeachment using a modern lens.
As 21st-century political scientists, we have had (dis)pleasure in explaining the impeachment process to our students more than anticipated. As a #millennialprof, my memories of the Clinton impeachment story are fuzzy. I was more aware and able to comprehend the salacious details of the process than I was the actual process. This explains why I am committed to helping my students understand the gravity of what is occurring (again).

Teaching impeachment requires fact-based evidence
How do you approach teaching the Trump impeachment? Begin by establishing sources and providing receipts throughout your explanation. Inevitably we will be accused of being on one side or the other based on the conversations/lectures in the classroom. Let’s start by addressing the facts.
What does the Article of Impeachment claim?
What is the role of Congress in this process? The Senate versus the House
What does it mean to impeach a president?

Describe the Impeachment Process in detail
Discuss the Articles in the Constitution that deal with impeachment (Article I, Section 4, and Article I Section 3, Clause 7). Interpretation is possible. Your students should provide constitutional justifications for the forwarding of past articles. Students need to understand that impeachment does not involve a criminal trial. Students who seek more retributive justice might not be aware of this. Modern impeachments (Clinton, Trump) will be influenced by partisanship. This is crucial for students to understand.

Teaching Impeachment with Federalist Support Up!
Paper Numbers 65-66 by Alexander Hamilton address the normative role played by the Senate during impeachment. These papers also give a great insight into the beliefs of the founding fathers regarding the impartiality and effectiveness of the institutions they created. In Federalist Paper No. Hamilton notes, for instance, in Federalist Paper No. 65:
A tribunal sufficiently independent or dignified could only have been found in the Senate. What other body would feel CONFIDENCE ENOUGH in its OWN SITUATION to preserve, unawed, and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality among an INDIVIDUAL Accused and the REPRESENTATIVES of THE PEOPLE, HIS ASSIGNERS?
It is a great sentiment to have students express concern for current Senators who are witnesses to the alleged crime. I ask students to explain Hamilton’s intent and then have them apply the facts to the current situation. Another approach is to ask students for explanations of the structure of executive branch (namely, the Office of President) and limitations of President using the Federalist Papers.

Encourage advocacy
Encourage students to participate in discussions and to advocate for their views. Encourage students to make contact information for their senators readily available to them. It can be difficult for elected officials simply to ignore the will and opinions of their constituents through citizen advocacy. They will likely vote for the party line, but will have people to answer to.

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