How does the impeachment process work?

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached. How does the impeachment process work?

by Carrie Yutzy
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is being impeached. How does the impeachment process work? On Jan. 9, 2009, the Illinois House of Representatives impeached Blagojevich in a 114-1 vote. The decision was reaffirmed by the incoming legislature on Jan. 14 in a 117-1 vote for impeachment.

Impeachment is uncommon in the U.S., and the process can be confusing. Does Blagojevich's impeachment have you wondering how the impeachment process works and what happens next?

The impeachment process

A common misconception is that impeachment of an official means his or her removal from office. In fact, impeachment functions as an indictment of a public official; it allows the legislature to bring formal charges against a civil officer of government. After an official has been impeached, or formally charged, a trial is held to determine whether or not the official will be removed from office.

In the U.S. Federal government, the House of Representatives impeaches government officials, and the trial takes place before the Senate. The House votes on the articles of impeachment, requiring a simple majority to pass them. Upon passage of the articles, an individual has been impeached.

Blagojevich is a state official and was impeached by the Illinois State Legislature. The Illinois impeachment process is similar to the federal impeachment process, but not all states follow the same model. State impeachment proceedings take place according to each state's constitution and can vary widely.

Impeachable offenses

According to the U.S. Constitution, "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" justify impeachment, although the exact definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors" is often the subject of debate. Usually, impeachment is reserved for serious offenses and abuses of power, and it is up to the impeaching body to determine whether or not an offense is impeachable. Offenses do not have to violate criminal law in order to be impeachable.

Blagojevich is the 16th governor to be impeached in the U.S.; most, like Blagojevich, under charges of corruption. The most infamous accusation against Blagojevich is that he attempted to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, but other charges against him included conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, solicitation of bribery, and trading official acts for campaign contributions. These accusations also led to Blagojevich's arrest on federal corruption charges in December 2008.

The trial

After the House of Representatives impeaches, the Senate tries the accused. Senators are sworn in as jurors, and rules for the proceedings are established. When a U.S. President is impeached, the Chief Justice of the United States presides; in Blagojevich's case, the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court presided over the hearing. A two-thirds majority is required to convict; otherwise, the accused is acquitted. In the Illinois State Senate, 40 of the 59 member votes were needed to convict him.

The consequences

A conviction by the Senate brings immediate removal from office. If an official is convicted, the Senate may take a second vote to determine whether or not to bar the official from holding any public office in the future. The Senate trial does not constitute a criminal trial, and the Senate decision does not have power beyond removal from office and barring future public office. The impeached official is still subject to criminal prosecution for any criminal offenses that were included in the articles of impeachment.

In late January 2009, Blagojevich "was removed from office and prohibited from ever holding public office in the state of Illinois again, by two separate and unanimous votes of 59–0 by the Illinois Senate," according to Wikipedia.

In April that same year, he was indicted by a federal grand jury. The following year, he was convicted of lying to the FBI. The other 23 charges resulted in a hung jury. In a retrial, Blagojevich was convicted of 17 charges, and he served nearly eight years in federal prison.

For more information:

Illinois State Senate Impeachment Documents

Constitution of the United States

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About the Author

Carrie Yutzy

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