Impeach the Governor of Connecticut? Don't Do It!

Roundup: Media's Take

Ross H. Garber, counsel to the office of the governor of Connecticut, in the Hartford Currant (March 7, 2004):

The legislature's Select Committee of Inquiry bears a weighty and historic constitutional responsibility. No governor or any other official has ever been impeached in Connecticut. Indeed, impeachment of a sitting governor is an extraordinarily rare event in U.S. history - only one governor has been impeached in this country in the past 70 years.

Impeachment is employed so rarely because it represents the gravest possible step for the legislature. In fact, impeachment in Connecticut is more serious than in other jurisdictions, because in Connecticut the governor is temporarily removed from office if he is impeached. He returns only if and when the Senate acquits him.

Thus, in Connecticut, impeachment vetoes a democratic election and severely disrupts the ordinary balance between the branches of government. Because impeachment exacts such a heavy toll - on the state, on the public and on the Connecticut Constitution - it must not be used except when absolutely necessary. As the committee undertakes its investigation, it should recognize what scholars have concluded and history has confirmed: Only serious criminal wrongdoing or similarly egregious misconduct related to the governor's official duties justifies impeachment.

History reveals a clear trend toward reserving impeachment for situations presenting clear proof of the most serious misconduct. In the only gubernatorial impeachment in the past 70 years, as in all federal impeachments during this period, there were allegations of serious criminal wrongdoing. Most modern impeachment proceedings began only after the official was formally charged with a crime; not one was based solely on allegations of dishonesty or ethical misconduct.

Nowhere is this pattern clearer than in prior impeachments of state governors. In the most recent example, 16 years ago, the Arizona Legislature began impeachment proceedings against Gov. Evan Mecham only after a grand jury indicted him. In fact, putting aside a few impeachments spawned by partisan politics or extraordinarily tumultuous times, no governor in the 20th century has been impeached except after criminal indictment.

The two modern experiences with presidential impeachment also confirm this principle. The impeachment proceedings against both President Nixon and President Clinton were based on allegations of criminal wrongdoing. Moreover, even though the House found that President Clinton had committed crimes, the Senate refused to remove him from office because, according to several senators, the criminal allegations, even if true, did not rise to the high threshold required for impeachment.

History further demonstrates that impeachment should not occur unless the legislature is certain that the charges are actually true. A relatively high standard of proof, namely" clear and convincing evidence," serves that purpose. That standard of proof was used in the Arizona Senate trial of Gov. Mecham. It also guided the U.S. House of Representatives in weighing the impeachment of President Nixon, and it was cited by several senators in the Clinton proceedings.

There are good reasons for refusing to impeach an elected official except on clear and convincing proof of the gravest wrongdoing. Our Constitution creates a system in which the governor is elected every four years and serves out his term regardless of his popularity or the public's confidence in his ability to lead. Connecticut, like the rest of the United States, rejected the British model of government, which allows the parliament to eject a chief executive on a"vote of no confidence." We intentionally have no California-style recall provision. In our system, a governor may not be tossed from office because of sagging polls or even because the public no longer regards him as trustworthy.

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