the courts have ruled (us)…now let them enforce it



Impeachment of a judge is no easy thing to do.  In the history of our country since adoption of the Constitution we have had 43 presidents.  Two of those presidents have been impeached, Presidents Andrew Johnson and William Clinton.  That’s an impeachment rate of 4.7% of all presidents.  If you count President Richard Nixon, who resigned before facing impeachment, the rate would be roughly 7%.


Since 1789, thirteen federal judges have been impeached, of which seven were convicted.  By our best count, there have been a total of 3,027 federal judges.  That makes an impeachment rate of .4%, or four-tenths of one per cent, of all federal district, appellate, and Supreme Court judges who have ever been on the bench, compared to 4.7% of all presidents.


The Constitutional standard for impeachment

It’s really rather simple.  According to Article III, section 1 of the United States Constitution,

“…The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour…”

It is not up to the judges themselves to decide if they meet the standards of good behavior.  It is up to the People, speaking through their elected representatives.

It is rather long, but if you click on this link from the Gerald Ford Presidential Library, regarding the debate over impeaching a Supreme Court justice, it is worth your time.  It provides a reference in recent history about what the impeachment of judges is all about.


Several other sources chronicle the tension between the branches of government and historical anecdotes such as when President Andrew Jackson, the father of the Democratic Party, was quoted as reacting to a United States Supreme Court ruling with the words, “[he] has made his ruling, now let him enforce it.”  Some argue that Jackson never said that; in any case the quote matches his demeanor.  Back then the leader of one branch of government recognized that he had as much authority to interpret the Constitution as any other.  That has changed, and Presidents and Members of Congress seem to grovel before the courts.  We’ve heard quotes from powerful governors and senators, after bizarre court rulings, along the lines of “we have to follow the law.”  They are mistaken; they make and enforce the law.  If our elected leaders are afraid of the courts, we need to educate and encourage them.  Write to them.  Demand impeachment proceedings of rogue judges.  What do you have to lose?  We demand representative government, not rule by the distant black-robed class of priest-kings who believe that they answer to no one. 


CourtZero does not seek to dismantle the form of government that the Constitution created.  Rather, it is time to live up to the Constitution, to demand that the President and the Congress assume their full duties, and for a moratorium on courts exceeding their authority and delving into social questions no matter what our representatives have said about those questions.  Think of it as a cooling-off period.  Let the courts spend their time resolving property disputes, prosecuting criminals, protecting abused children, and so on, and stay out of redefining social norms for average people.  After ten years, I think we could revisit the issue and give some trust back to the judiciary if they’ve acted with “good behavior” as the Constitution requires of them.


For the historians and the curious among us, here is the list of all impeached federal judges, whether they were convicted or not:


1.         John Pickering, U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.  Impeached in 1803, on charges of mental instability and intoxication on the bench and removed from office.

2.         Samuel Chase, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States.  Impeached in 1804, on charges of arbitrary and oppressive conduct of trials; acquitted and remained in office.

3.         James H. Peck, U.S. District Court for the District of Missouri.  Impeached in 1830, on charges of abuse of the contempt power; acquitted and remained in office.

4.         West H. Humphreys, U.S. District Court for the Middle, Eastern, and Western Districts of Tennessee.   Impeached in 1862, on charges of refusing to hold court and waging war against the U.S. government and removed from office.

5.         Mark H. Delahay, U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.  Impeached in 1873, on charges of intoxication on the bench; Resigned from office before opening of trial in the U.S. Senate.

6.         Charles Swayne, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.  Impeached in 1904, on charges of abuse of contempt power and other misuses of office; acquitted and remained in office.

7.         Robert W. Archbald, U.S. Commerce Court.  Impeached in 1912, on charges of improper business relationship with litigants and removed from office.

8.         George W. English, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois.  Impeached in 1926, on charges of abuse of power; resigned from office before trial.

9.         Harold Louderback, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  Impeached in 1933, on charges of favoritism in the appointment of bankruptcy receivers; acquitted and remained in office.

10.       Halsted L. Ritter, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  Impeached in 1936, on charges of favoritism in the appointment of bankruptcy receivers and practicing law while sitting as a judge and removed from office.

11.       Harry E. Claiborne, U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.  Impeached in 1986, on charges of income tax evasion and of remaining on the bench following criminal conviction and removed from office.

12.       Alcee L. Hastings, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  Impeached in 1988, on charges of perjury and conspiring to solicit a bribe and removed from office.

13.       Walter L. Nixon, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  Impeached in 1989, on charges of perjury before a federal grand jury and removed from office.


Don’t forget the forum.  Talk to each other.