US Supreme Court

Can a US Supreme Court justice be impeached and removed from office?

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2015-07-21 21:47:16

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2011-11-22 18:08:09


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"


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,


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 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


For more information, see Related Questions, below.

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