The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over impeachment proceedings held in the Senate.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over impeachment proceedings held in the Senate.

The U.S. Constitution grants the power of impeachment to the U.S. Congress. An impeachment is similar to a trial. A person who is impeached is accused of a crime; the person can only face consequences if convicted. The Constitution also limits the number of things a person can be impeached for and limits the possible consequences.

Powers of Impeachment

The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to indict or bring impeachment proceedings, and the Senate the sole power to try impeachments. The Constitution also defines who can be tried and the crimes for which a person can be impeached. "The President, Vice-President and all civil officers of the United States" are subject to impeachment for bribery, treason or "other high crimes and misdemeanors." Over the years, what defines high crimes and misdemeanors has had many interpretations.

Consequences of Impeachment

The U.S. Constitution limits the possible consequences of impeachment. The crimes an individual could be impeached for as well as possible punishment were deliberately limited out of fear that impeachment would be used for political purposes. A person convicted by the Senate can only be removed from office and disqualified from holding "any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States." Impeachment does not activate the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause, however. This means that a person removed from office by impeachment can also face trial in other courts for crimes they have committed.

Removal From Office

Congress has the power to remove from office, through impeachment, the president, vice president, members of the president's cabinet and civil officers such as judges. If the president is removed, the vice president immediately takes the oath of office and becomes the president. In all other cases, the president nominates a replacement and the Congress must approve that replacement. In the event the president and vice president are both impeached and removed from office, the speaker of the House of Representatives would assume the presidency.

Presidential Impeachments

One of the best ways to examine what happens after an impeachment conviction is to look at what has happened in past impeachment preceding. As of 2011, no U.S. President has been impeached and convicted. In 1868, following the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson was impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors" but was ultimately acquitted. In 1974 the House of Representatives passed articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Nixon resigned though before impeachment proceedings could begin in the Senate. In 1999 President Bill Clinton was impeached for abuse of power, obstruction of justice and perjury but Clinton too was acquitted on the charges.

Other Impeachments

One of the best ways to examine what happens after an impeachment conviction is to look at what has happened in past impeachment proceedings. As of 2011, no U.S. president has been impeached and convicted. In 1868, following the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson was impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors" but was ultimately acquitted. In 1974, the House of Representatives passed articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings could begin in the Senate, however. In 1999, President Bill Clinton was impeached for abuse of power, obstruction of justice and perjury, but Clinton also was acquitted on the charges.