An Intemperate Man: The Impeachment of Justice Samuel Chase

by Michael Liss

On their part they have retired into the Judiciary as a stronghold. There the remains of Federalism are to be preserved and fed from the treasury, and from that battery all the works of Republicanism are to be beaten down and erased. —Thomas Jefferson to John Dickenson, December 19, 1801

Portrait of Samuel Chase, by John Wesley Jarvis, 1811. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

So frustrating, so very frustrating. In 1800, Jefferson had captured the Presidency, his young Democratic-Republican Party the House and Senate,  and a new age was beginning. Out went the crabby, cranky John Adams and his bilious Federalists.  In came lightness and hope and liberty, a true “Second Revolution.”

All except for those gatekeepers, the ones manning the “battery,” those accursed Federalist judges. Twelve years of Federalist rule had left 12 years of Federalist judges. On top of those, a lame duck Federalist Congress had passed, and a lame duck President Adams had signed, the Judiciary Act of 1801, creating even more of them. The image of Adams feverishly signing commissions as the candle of his Presidency burned down rankled every good Republican, starting at the very top. 

Less than two weeks before he had written to Dickenson, Jefferson, in his first Annual Message, had called for Congress to repeal the Midnight Judges Act, and, within two months, they complied. All 16 of the new federal judges were shown the door. While there was some question about terminating the service of presumably lifetime appointments, there was little argument that Congress had the power to create or alter the composition of the federal bench, to add or subtract positions. 

Republicans had found the means to eliminate the Midnight Judges, but without new slots, Jefferson had to wait for vacancies to fill, and vacancies were slow in coming. His relatively conciliatory early approach was insufficient for some in his party seeking positions, and likely emotionally dissatisfying to him personally. Jefferson had the job; he had the votes in Congress; why shouldn’t he be permitted to govern, unencumbered by his political opponents on the Federal bench? His conviction grew after his Republican majorities in the House and Senate expanded with the Midterms. The public had spoken; the Federalists were in a political death spiral; it was time for the obstruction to end. Read more »

An Utterly Biased Guide To Impeachment

by Michael Liss

I have an awful confession to make. I haven’t made up my mind about whether President Trump should be convicted and removed from office.

I know that sounds deranged. I am “troubled” by what Trump apparently did. “Disturbed” by the scorched-earth defense strategy put together by the Trump team. “Deeply concerned” about the continuous violations of norms and the virtual certainty they will continue.

All of these things are true, and I’m not even a moderate Republican trying to show my independence to the folks back home before voting to acquit. I’m a Democrat, and every day of the Trump Regime is an excruciating day. Nothing would make me happier than a landslide repudiation of Trump by a thoroughly repulsed electorate. I want him out, and I believe that, applying a probable cause standard, the House voted appropriately to Impeach and send it to the Senate. Nonetheless, I’m not sure that, if I were a Senator, I would vote to convict.

I need evidence. Old fashioned, I admit, but I need it anyway. I need a credible process with witnesses being called and a case being presented in a formal way. I need a sense that the system actually works, as opposed to just being a two-party rumble where few seem to care about facts, and fewer about process.

Three simple questions: What did the President do? Did he have the authority to do it? And, if so, did he abuse that authority beyond the breaking point? Read more »

American Regicide

by Akim Reinhardt

Heneage Finch, Earl of Nottingham, An Exact and Most Impartial Account of the Indictment. of 29 Regicides.  (London: Andrew Crook, 1660)Donald Trump is going down. His house of cards will collapse at some point. The leaks will keep flowing and eventually his position will become untenable. Conflicts of interest. Connections to Russia. All of it will become too great a weight to carry, especially since The Donald has very few genuine allies in Washington.

The Democrats want him gone. So too do most of the Republicans. Hell, they never wanted him to begin with. The GOP did everything it could to derail his candidacy, and only climbed aboard after Trump's runaway train was the last red line careening towards the White House. So for now they're playing nice with the former Democrat who eschews Conservative dogma in a variety of ways and is loyal to absolutely no one save himself. But when the moment comes, they'll gladly trade Trump in for Mike Pence, a Conservative's wet dream.

For all these reasons, Trump may not make it to the finish line. But there's one more factor to consider: the precedent of regicide. And to understand that, we should begin by briefly recounting of the demise of the Ottoman sultan Osman II.

Young Osman II ascended the Ottoman throne in 1618 at the tender age of 14. Wishing to assert himself, in 1621 he personally led an invasion of Poland, which ended with a failed siege of Chota (aka Khotyn, now in western Ukraine). In a rather unwise move, Osman blamed the defeat on his elite fighting force, the Janissaries. Afterwards, he ordered the shuttering of Janissary coffee shops, which he saw as a hotbed of conspiracies against him. The Janissaries responded with a palace uprising. In 1622 they imprisoned the 17 year old monarch and soon after killed him. Because it was strictly forbidden to spill royal blood, they strangled him to death.

I first learned about the rise and fall of Osman II in 1992 while taking a graduate course on Ottoman history. "Something happens," our professor warned us in a foreboding tone, "the first time an empire commits regicide."

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