Racism and Bigotry as Grounds for Impeachment
Building on years of anti-racist organizing and advocacy, millions of Americans took to the streets to protest racism and demand racial justice in mid-2020. Much of the protest was directed at President Donald Trump—a president whose words and actions were racially polarizing and who deliberately incited racist hostility. This president was also impeached twice, yet issues of racism and bigotry were rarely discussed as impeachable offenses. The idea of impeaching President Trump for racism was initially rejected by Congress, and racism and bigotry were not the basis for either Trump impeachment.
This raises important questions: Were those considering impeachment wrong to dismiss racism as a reason for ending a presidency? Are racism and bigotry grounds for impeachment?
In this Article, I answer yes. The history of presidential impeachment shows that congressional impeachment managers considered racism and civil rights violations grounds for impeachment and removal. Presidential racism is an immediate threat to the lives and well-being of millions of Americans directly subject to such bigotry. It also assaults multi-racial democracy in ways that hurt Americans who are not direct targets. A racist president cannot be trusted to enforce constitutional and statutory civil rights protections—and is likely to break those laws.
My argument has five parts (following an Introduction in Part I). In Part II, I will argue that the Framers of the Constitution established impeachment to protect against broad, deep, and immediate threats to the nation. Presidential racism is such a threat. In Part III, I will show that the history of presidential impeachment pre-Trump demonstrates, albeit imperfectly, that racism and civil rights concerns are legitimate impeachment considerations. Part IV discusses the constitutional and statutory prohibitions on racial discrimination that characterize America’s “Second Founding.” A racist president should be impeached and removed to preserve the fundamental rights protected by these laws. Part V gives an overview of key impeachment principles derived from this history that show racism and bigotry are impeachable offenses. Finally, Part VI examines examples of impeachable racism focusing on what former-President Trump said and did as a candidate and president.
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