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What is a Formal Impeachment Petition?
Impeach for Peace researched the methods available to initiate impeachment for Presidents, Vice Presidents, or any other power abusing federal official and found a rarely used part of the Rules of the House of Representatives. Indeed, the House rules empower individual citizens to initiate the impeachment process. The relevant part of the House rules is a section called the Jefferson's Manual. It is the subsection of the rules of the House of Representatives that speaks to the ways impeachment can be initiated. The manual is a guide to parliamentary procedure (originally written by Thomas Jefferson for the U.S. House), and is included (along with the Constitution) in the bound volumes of the rules of the House of Representatives. It is ratified by each congress (including the current one), and has been updated continuously through the history of our democracy. The section covering impeachment lists the acceptable ways for bringing impeachment motions to the floor of the House.
Before the House Judiciary Committee can put together the Articles of Impeachment (a set of charges against a public official), someone must initiate the impeachment process. Most often, this occurs when members of the House pass a resolution. Another method outlined in the manual, however, is for individual citizens to submit a memorial/petition for impeachment.
After learning this information, Impeach for Peace found precedent in an 1826 memorial by Luke Edward Lawless which had been successful in initiating the impeachment of Federal Judge James H. Peck. Impeach for Peace then used this as a template for their "Formal Impeachment Petition." Now any citizen can fill out this petition and submit it, making it possible for Americans to do what our representatives are too often unwilling to do.
When and to whom will the petitions be delivered?
After submitting your petition, you will receive an email that includes a link to your petition. While this is only viewable by you and whoever you share the link with, you have the option of contacting your congressperson and submitting the petition to them. Simply locate their website through the House of Representatives, and send them a message including the link. However, we plan to collect as many petitions as possible, and then submit the petitions to any and all representatives who appear supportive of this type of accountability. Each time we deliver the petitions, the number of petitions will have grown, and so will the impact. We will send out updates when we do this through our website and social media profiles.
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• Information regarding Impeachment procedure
• Precedent: Judge Peck's Impeachment supplied by the U.S. House of Representatives and policyreview.org.
• House rules that allow for the submission of the memorial
The relevant part of the House rules is a section called the Jefferson's Manual. It is the subsection of the rules of the House of Representatives that speaks to the ways impeachment can be initiated. The manual is a guide to parliamentary procedure (originally written by Thomas Jefferson for the U.S. House), and is included (along with the Constitution) in the bound volumes of the Rules of the House of Representatives. It is ratified by each congress (including the current one), and has been updated continuously through the history of our democracy.
Within the Manual itself, the section covering impeachment is designated Section LIII. Section 603, in which you'll find the listing of acceptable ways to bring impeachment motions to the floor. The second one listed below being of most interest to our us. The document reads:
| | Impeachment may be set in motion by:
- Charges made on the floor on the responsibility of a Member or Delegate;
- Charges preferred by a memorial, which is usually referred to a committee for examination;
- A resolution dropped in the hopper by a Member and referred to a committee;
- Charges transmitted from the legislature of a State or Territory;
- Charges transmitted from a grand jury; or
- Facts developed and reported by an investigating committee of the House.
Source: U.S. Government Printing Office: Precedents: Hinds - III, 2364, 2491, 2494, 2496, 2499, 2515; Cannon's - VI, 552
While some of these words are no longer used in our everyday speech, here are the important bolded words above to understand:
Memorial: "a written statement of facts accompanying a petition presented to somebody in authority."
Preferred: "to make a charge against somebody by submitting details of the alleged offense to a court, magistrate, or judge for examination, or prosecute such a charge." Source: Encarta® World English Dictionary
So, in other words, one method to initiate impeachment is for you to write a statement, including charges against a power abusing official, and submit it to "somebody in authority," in this case a representative of the House.
Peck and contempt (care of policyreview.org):
This method (a Formal Impeachment Petition or 'memorial') was used by a citizen to successfully impeach a Judge in the 1800s. It is the case of Judge James H. Peck, an 1830-31 impeachment and acquittal. President Monroe had appointed Peck to the bench in 1822. In 1828, the Democrats swept to power. That met the condition for partisan conflict.
Peck was judge in Missouri in a series of land claim cases in the territory of the Louisiana purchase. The law was complicated, the interests involved huge. In the first such case, in 1825 (the account here draws mainly on Bushnell’s in Crimes, Follies, and Misfortunes), Peck ruled against the client of a lawyer named Luke Edward Lawless. Because of the high degree of interest in the case, Peck published his ruling in a St. Louis newspaper in 1826. Shortly thereafter, a detailed rebuttal of Peck’s ruling appeared in another newspaper under the byline, "A Citizen." Peck was furious at the attack. He believed the "Citizen" rebuttal, in addition to its flawed legal reasoning, was replete with errors and misrepresentations of his ruling. Lawless’s authorship soon became known.
Peck held the letter to be a contempt of court, sentenced Lawless to twenty-four hours in jail, and suspended him from practicing in federal court for eighteen months [a serious blow to Lawless’s livelihood as a lawyer specializing in land claims before the federal courts]. As the basis of the contempt ruling, Peck found that Lawless acted "with intent to impair the public confidence in the upright intentions of said court, and to bring odium upon the court, and especially with intent to impress the public mind, and particularly many litigants in this court, that they are not to expect justice in the cases now pending therein."
Lawless felt he was entirely within his rights to criticize a published decision and saw the contempt ruling as a tyrannical affront to the Constitution. He began a long crusade against Peck that ultimately led to impeachment nearly five years later on one article dealing solely with the judge’s treatment of Lawless. The article accused Peck of acting "to the great disparagement of public justice, the abuse of judicial authority, and to the subversion of the liberties of the people of the United States." James Buchanan, who went on to be elected president in 1856, was chairman of the House managers.
Peck maintained that his contempt ruling was within his powers as a judge, and his defenders argued that even if it went too far, Peck did not, as the article alleged, act with bad intent, believing that he possessed sufficient authority for his actions. At a minimum, however, it seems fair to say that Peck’s actions from the bench were harsh enough to meet the test of genuinely dubious conduct.
Peck was acquitted with 21 votes in favor of removal and 22 against. Where was the abuse of the separation of powers here? In this case, not in the statute books but in the common law — the precedents Peck relied on to hold Lawless in contempt and to sentence him harshly. As Bushnell observes, Peck’s defenders "sought to refute the charge of abuse of the contempt power by citing English and American precedents supporting the authority of courts to punish for contempts like Lawless’s." The House tried to hold his conduct to the standard of its more circumscribed view of judicial contempt powers. The Senate was not willing to rely on the House’s assertions to the extent necessary to remove Peck.
But the Senate, like the House, can hardly be said to have found Peck’s conduct salutary. Both chambers amply demonstrated this by approving, within a month of Peck’s acquittal, legislation introduced by Buchanan restricting contempt findings in federal courts roughly along the lines of the terms the House managers had unsuccessfully tried to apply in Peck’s impeachment. Contempt could be found in misbehavior in a courtroom or close enough to it to disturb its proceedings; or in misbehavior in such business of the courts’ as filing motions and briefs; or in the failure to obey a lawful court order. It could not be found in a newspaper rebuttal to a court’s decision. Buchanan’s legislation governs contempts in federal courts to this day.
Lawless' actual petition can be found here and also in the larger document "Report of the Trial of James H. Peck": Source - U.S. House Precendents: Hinds III, 2496-2499
More information on Peck's impeachment; Source - U.S Government Printing Office
Petitions, memorials, and private bills:
Don't let a representative in the House tell you that they cannot submit your impeachment petition, even if they are from some other district than your own. The following rule from the House shows that they can.
[110th Congress House Rules Manual -- House Document No. 108-241]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office Online Database]
| |Petitions, memorials, and other papers addressed to the House may be presented by the Speaker as well as by a Member [of Congress] (IV, 3312). Petitions from the country at large are presented by the Speaker in the manner prescribed by the rule (III, 2030; IV, 3318; VII, 1025). A Member [of Congress] may present a petition from the people of a State other than his own (IV, 3315, 3316). The House itself may refer one portion of a petition to one committee and another portion to another committee (IV, 3359, 3360), but ordinarily the reference of a petition does not come before the House itself. A committee may receive a petition only through the House (IV, 4557). Source: U.S. Government Printing Office
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