Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Chase Impeachment Trial Akin to the Trial of CJ Corona; What to Learn From It.

By: Atty. Napoleon B. Arenas Jr

The ongoing trial of Chief Justice Corona has a parallel setting in American impeachment history. The circa was 1800 when the new American nation is governed by two conflicting political parties: the Federalist, which is headed by John Adams, and the Republicans headed by Thomas Jefferson. The Federalist and the Republicans had a very different idea about how the young nation should develop. The Federalist stood for a much stronger national government than did the Jeffersonians.
Thomas Jefferson had just won the presidency but had not yet been sworn in, and President John Adams, fearful of Jefferson’s principles, wished to preserve the national judiciary as a Federalist stronghold and appointed John Marshall as the nation’s fourth chief justice. The appointment of Marshall, who was Adams Secretary of State, did much to accomplish that.
To counter the move of Adams, Jefferson chose impeachment as the weapon to the reduce the Federalist  stronghold in the judiciary. They began with an easy target: John Pickering, a federal district judge in New Hampshire, who was apparently both insane and a drunkard. These characteristics may not, oddly enough, be sufficient grounds for impeachment. (Article II, section 4 of the United States Constitution requires “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” for removal of civil officers. But article III, section I of the same constitution states that judges “shall hold their Office during good Behavior”, and it is not settled whether that standard is different from the standard stated under the general impeachment provision.) The House impeached Pickering nonetheless, and the Senate convicted, thus removing him from office.
After the Jeffersonians victory in the removal of Pickering, they now move to impeach a Justice of the Supreme Court, Samuel Chase, a hard-core Federalist and a member of the Marshall Court. The charges against chase were based on his acts while on the bench and were far removed from the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors “ required by the American Constitution.  Rather, it was generally recognized that the impeachment was political in character.
The proceedings during the Chase trial were as dramatic as the present impeachment of Justice Corona, and after the spectacle it resulted in an acquittal, for enough Senators of the Jeffersonian party were convinced by the argument of the defense that “Our property, our liberty, our lives, can only be protected and secured by independent judges”. (Quoted from the book of Albert Jeremiah Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall. Vol. 2.)   
“The significance of the outcome of the Chase trial,” says Justice William H. Rehnquist, “cannot be overstated, and had Justice Chase been removed, it would have made impossible the independence of the judiciary upon which the constitutional structure rests.”
Bernard Schwartz in his book A History of the Supreme Court, Oxford University Press joined Rehnquist when he said  that The Chase trial, as matter of history, put an end to the danger of judicial removal on political grounds. Since 1805, though impeachment proceedings have been brought against other federal judges, in none of these cases was the effort to secure removal based upon political reasons.’
Our Senators judges may very well be guided by this historical perspective, but in the end it is their individual character that will ultimately guide them in their quest for truth and justice.
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