Explained: Impeachment of a US President


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Impeachment Process

Mains level : Comparison of the process with that of Indian process

  • The speaker of US House of Representatives announced that it would launch an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.
  • Trump is accused for his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, Trump’s potential rival in the 2020 elections.

Impeachment in US

  • Impeachment is a provision that allows Congress to remove the President of the United States.
  • Under the US Constitution, the House of Representatives (Lower House) has the “the sole power of impeachment” while the Senate (Upper House) has “the sole power to try all impeachments”.
  • The Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court has the duty of presiding over impeachment trials in the Senate.

Grounds for impeachment

  • The President can be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.
  • What constitutes these “high crimes” and “misdemeanors” (misdemeanors), however, is not clearly spelt out.
  • The NY Times explained that the expression “high crimes and misdemeanors” came out of the British common law tradition.
  • Essentially, it means an abuse of power by a high-level public official. This does not necessarily have to be a violation of an ordinary criminal statute.
  • Historically, in the US, it has encompassed corruption and other abuses, including trying to obstruct judicial proceedings.

Impeachment history

  • No US President has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment.
  • The House did impeach two Presidents — Andrew Johnson (1968) and Bill Clinton (1998) — but the Senate did not convict them.
  • In between, President Richard Nixon (1974) resigned before he could be removed.

The process

House Vote

  • It begins with an investigation by a House committee.
  • In the Nixon and Clinton cases, the House Judiciary Committee held that investigation and recommended articles of impeachment to the full House.
  • In Trump’s case, six committees are investigating him on impeachable offences. I
  • If they find that there is enough evidence of wrongdoing, it will refer the matter to the full House (see flow chart).
  • When the full House votes, if one or more of the articles of impeachment gets a majority vote, the President is impeached. Next, the proceedings move to the Senate.

Senate Trial and Vote

  • The Senate holds a trial, overseen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
  • A team of lawmakers from the House, known as managers, play the role of prosecutors.
  • The President has defence lawyers, and the Senate serves as the jury.
  • If at least two-thirds of the Senators present find the President guilty, he is removed and the Vice President takes over as President.


Impeachment of President of India

  • The president may be removed before the expiry of the term through impeachment for violating the Constitution of India by the Parliament of India.
  • The process may start in either of the two houses of the parliament.
  • The house initiates the process by levelling the charges against the president.
  • The charges are contained in a notice that has to be signed by at least one-quarter of the total members of that house.
  • The notice is sent up to the president and 14 days later, it is taken up for consideration.


  • A resolution to impeach the president has to be passed by a two-thirds majority of the total number of members of the originating house.
  • It is then sent to the other house.
  • The other house investigates the charges that have been made. During this process, the president has the right to defend oneself through an authorised counsel.
  • If the second house also approves the charges made by special majority again, the president stands impeached and is deemed to have vacated their office from the date when such a resolution stands passed.
  • No president has faced impeachment proceedings so the above provisions have never been used.

Legal immunity

  • As clarified by the Supreme court in the case Rameshwar Prasad & Ors vs Union Of India & Anr on 24 January 2006; the president cannot be prosecuted and imprisoned during his term of office.
  • He/She can be prosecuted after he/she steps down from the post for the guilty committed during the term of presidency as declared earlier by the courts.
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