By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, Jan 25 (IANS) Impeachment politics is moving fast. America’s political pundits are all over the map on whether US Vice President Kamala Harris should, should not or could preside over the impeachment trial of former US president Donald Trump who is currently in Florida, licking his wounds and lawyering up.
The Constitution is clear that the US chief justice must preside over the impeachment trial of a president. But when it comes to the trial of an ex-president, the answers are split wide open. If Roberts does recuse himself, it will be up to Harris to make the decision. The sitting Vice President presides over the Senate.
Harris became Vice President after shuttering her own presidential campaign. She is likely to run for the White House in 2024. “Would this not be a conflict of interest for this potential candidate to preside over a trial whose critical function is to bar a past president from running again?,” Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, and former Trump impeachment lawyer, writes in ‘The Hill’.
Trump has been impeached by the House on a single charge of inciting an insurrection on January 6, the day the US Congress gathered at the Capitol to certify Biden’s election. Opening arguments in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial will begin the week of February 8.
Back in December, 2019, Kamala Harris had tweeted, “Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’ll see you at your trial,” in response to a Trump tweet after her presidential campaign folded up. Turns out, that exact decision is now looming in front of Vice President Harris, not Senator Harris who sent that tweet flying.
We have still not heard from chief justice Roberts, the issue is without precedent, and law professors are all in on it. Broadly, there are three choices: Justice Roberts or Kamala Harris or Senator. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who is the Senate’s president pro tem.
Law experts explain that the main reason the Constitution specifies the chief justice run a sitting President’s trial is because the person who presides over the Senate is the vice president who would take over the presidency if the president is convicted. But in this case, since Trump is out of office, Harris and Biden stay put.
“The Senate Impeachment Court of … Vice President Harris?” screams a headline in National Review. There, Andrew McCarthy writes, “Unlike an incumbent President’s impeachment trial, a Senate trial of former President Trump would present no conflict of interest for the current vice president. Trump is out of office. Were he convicted, it would have no effect on Vice President Kamala Harris. President Biden would remain president.”
“John Roberts shouldn’t preside over impeachment trial. Nor should Kamala Harris,” runs an opinion column headline in The Boston Globe. Bruce Ackerman, law professor at Yale, explains that in contrast to Roberts, “Harris has gained her position as a result of the very election that Trump is condemning as ‘rigged’,” referring to the November 2020 election that Biden won.
“It would be even more inappropriate for the evidence submitted by Trump’s lawyers to be judged by a triumphant member of the Biden team. Whenever she disqualified their so-called evidence as fact-free, it will become that much harder for Biden to succeed in ‘bringing all Americans together’,” said Ackerman, in the context of Biden’s messaging on unity at a time of multiple crises.
The White House has punted on the question of the trial’s mechanics, insisting that the star cast can “walk and chew gum at the same time and can move forward with the business of the American people.”
Harris told NPR, with a laugh, “We know how to multitask. There’s a reason that word exists in the English language.”
(Nikhila Natarajan can be reached at [email protected])