Can a President Be Impeached for Non-Criminal Conduct? New Linguistic Analysis Says Yes

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Social Science Research Network

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“Few terms in constitutional law have been so fiercely contested as ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ [in the impeachment provision].” Although most legal scholars argue that this phrase does not limit impeachment to criminal conduct, reconciling this conclusion with the constitutional text has been a challenge. In this article, co-authored by a law professor and a linguistics professor, we offer what we believe is a new and persuasive approach that arises directly from the constitutional text itself for extending the scope of impeachment to non-criminal conduct. We reach this conclusion by applying the science of linguistics to computer-assisted review of digitized texts written around the period when the Constitution was drafted and ratified. The result of this empirical research is the proposal that “other high crimes and misdemeanors” in the constitutional text should be interpreted as “other high crimes” and “other high misdemeanors.” Our linguistic analysis further establishes that high misdemeanor was a phrase used during the founding era to refer to non-criminal misconduct that requires removal from office. We corroborate this analysis with historical research showing that during the century following the founding era, the U.S. House of Representatives recurrently enacted articles of impeachment using the term “high misdemeanor” to refer to non-criminal misconduct affecting governance.

Recommended Citation

Clark D. Cunningham & Ute Romer, Can a President Be Impeached for Non-Criminal Conduct? New Linguistic Analysis Says Yes, SSRN (2023).