Constitutionality of 2nd Trump trial hinges on a tiny punctuation mark.
The political future of Donald J. Trump could hinge on a single comma in the U.S. Constitution. Hanging in the balance is the future viability of the U.S. form of democracy.
Trump’s second impeachment trial began today in the U.S. Senate, and as I write the topic of impeachment managers is a punctuation mark.
If ever you thought commas don’t matter, consider this –
House Impeachment Manager Joe Neguse, who represents Colorado’s 2nd District, is currently explaining the function of a specific comma in response to an illogical argument set forth by Trump’s lawyers.
Here’s Article I, Section 3, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution, which contains the comma in question:
“Judgement in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgement and Punishment, according to Law.”
It’s the one right after “Office” and right before “and disqualification.”
From now on I’m going to call it “The Impeachment Comma.”
Trump’s attorneys are arguing that “removal” and “disqualification” are two parts of one directive, that if there’s no removal, there can be no disqualification. Trump, they say, cannot be disqualified from holding office in the future because he was never removed from office by the Senate.
However, for that to be true, the tiny punctuation mark would need to be erased from our Constitution.
Remember what your grammar-school teacher hammered into your head – a comma indicates a distinct separation between two things, and whether you’re reading in your head or out loud, you pause when you see one.
With that in mind, go ahead, read Article I, Section 3, Clause 7 both ways:
“Judgement in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office….”
- The Senate can remove and disqualify a president from office.
In this case, there would be no possibility of disqualification without removal.
However, as the clause actually reads:
“Judgement in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.”
- The Senate can remove a president from office.
- The Senate can disqualify a president from holding Office.
The Senate can do the first thing only, the second thing only or both. Removal and disqualification are clearly two options out of three. Both can be the result of an impeachment trial, but the lack of one does not preclude the other.
Right now, Republicans who claim to be Constitutional purists are arguing that something in the Constitution should be ignored. But if they’re going to be purists, they cannot simply ignore part of the Constitution, even one that’s so miniscule it would seem meaningless under normal circumstances and in normal times.
Not without being the greatest hypocrites in history.
These are most definitely not normal circumstances or normal times. The future of the U.S. democracy is at stake. This nation cannot withstand another round of the fascist dictator wannabe, a.k.a. the #OrangeMenace, a.k.a., Donald J. Trump.
It’s hard to imagine that everything hanging in the balance could hinge on a single comma.
And as much as it pains me to say so, it doesn’t.
That’s because, unfortunately, the vast majority of Republicans have already proven themselves to be the greatest hypocrites of all time, and, therefore, the outcome of this trial is likely a foregone conclusion. A handful of GOP senators might listen to the evidence and vote with every Democrat in the chamber to convict the ex-president*. But most won’t.
So a few days from now, Trump will not be convicted of inciting insurrection. He will not be disqualified from holding office in the future. And he will not be held accountable for anything. Again.
Few of us will be surprised. After all, if an armed insurrection against the United States of America that cost lives can’t make the GOP do the right thing, the Impeachment Comma doesn’t stand a chance.
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bz · February 9, 2021 at 7:37 pm
Simple, clear, and direct!
Did you notice i put the comma after ‘clear’ so your English teacher won’t glare at us?
(I don’t use a comma there most of the time.)
Martin C. Fredricks IV · February 11, 2021 at 1:57 pm
Thanks, Bruce! The irony here is I almost never use the Oxford comma, per the journalistic style I learned in college (Associated Press). 🙂