By David Jacobs | The Center Square
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, is defending his vote to continue the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, arguing that trying a president after he leaves office clearly is constitutional.
Cassidy’s vote provoked outrage from the party establishment in a state Trump easily won twice. He is one of six Republicans who voted to continue the trial and has said he will keep an open mind about the final vote to convict.
Trump is accused of deliberately inciting the U.S. Capitol riot that left five people dead. Tuesday’s vote was not about his guilt or innocence but about whether it is constitutional to hold the trial now that Trump has left office.
The House managers quoted the U.S. Constitution, documents that influenced the writing of the Constitution, the “founding fathers,” and numerous legal scholars, including prominent conservatives, to argue convincingly the trial is constitutional, Cassidy said in a video posted Wednesday evening.
Trump’s attorneys, on the other hand, complimented the House managers’ arguments, then “spent two hours talking about everything but this [constitutional] issue, except for maybe five minutes,” Cassidy said.
“They effectively conceded the point,” Cassidy said, urging anyone questioning his decision to watch the arguments from the trial’s first day. He accused some of his critics of valuing loyalty to Trump over the Constitution.
“I’m a constitutional conservative who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” he said.
The state GOP issued a statement condemning Cassidy’s vote while praising U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, also a Louisiana Republican, for voting the other way.
“We feel that an impeachment trial of a private citizen is not only an unconstitutional act, but also an attack on the very foundation of American democracy, which will have far reaching and unforeseen consequences for our republic,” the party’s statement said.
The Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish, which is Cassidy’s home parish, censured the senator, an action the group said it has never taken before. The group’s statement said it “holds him out as an object of shame” and noted Cassidy initially voted the trial was unconstitutional before taking the opposite position this week.
“He does not represent the people of this state or the Republican Party,” the statement read. “He represents himself and has joined with some of the most dishonest and disreputable forces in our country to be part of this despicable sham.”
Neither Cassidy’s brief video statement nor the two written statements party officials issued cite a specific part of the Constitution.
Former appeals court Judge J. Michael Luttig, citing Article I, Section 3 and Article II Section 4, has argued that Congress loses its authority to continue impeachment proceedings once the president’s term ends, even if the House of Representatives impeaches the president while he is still in office, as was the case with Trump.
“The very concept of constitutional impeachment presupposes the impeachment, conviction and removal of a president who is, at the time of his impeachment, an incumbent in the office from which he is removed,” Luttig wrote. “Indeed, that was the purpose of the impeachment power, to remove from office a president or other ‘civil official’ before he could further harm the nation from the office he then occupies.”
More than 150 legal scholars, including a co-founder and members of the conservative Federalist Society, have argued that interpreting articles I and II as Luttig does negates an important aspect of the impeachment power: Congress’ ability to disqualify an officeholder from seeking office again. They noted that former American officials have been impeached before, and argued there is no reason to believe a president is exempt from the same treatment.
“If an official could only be disqualified while he or she still held office, then an official who betrayed the public trust and was impeached could avoid accountability simply by resigning one minute before the Senate’s final conviction vote,” the scholars argue. “The Framers did not design the Constitution’s checks and balances to be so easily undermined.”