On February 8, on the eve of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in the US Senate, Dean Trevor Morrison moderated an online discussion among scholars that analyzed questions of constitutional law raised in the proceedings, including the use and purposes of impeachment.
NYU Law’s Reiss Center on Law and Security and Just Security co-hosted the event, which featured Bob Bauer, professor of practice and distinguished scholar in residence; Ryan Goodman, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law, RCLS faculty co-director, and co-editor-in-chief of Just Security; Columbia Law School professor Gillian Metzger; and Melissa Murray, Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law.
All participants agreed that Trump’s conviction would be unlikely. The final part of the discussion focused on the scenario that proved to be the actual outcome of the trial: what would happen if a majority of senators voted to convict the former president, but their votes failed to reach the two-thirds supermajority threshold for conviction?
Selected quotes from the discussion:
Melissa Murray: “Given the nature of the Senate, given the unlikelihood of a conviction here, there’s also this other sort of demosprudential kind of function here where the House managers are actually making a broader case to the public. And that may be perhaps the more important function of at least this impeachment trial and in sort of making clear the stakes, more generally, to the American people.” (video 54:14)
Ryan Goodman: “I think that there's a formal question as to whether or not there’ll be a vote for convictions so that the former president will be disqualified as a matter of law from ever being able to run for office again. And then there’s the informal process, which is the court of public opinion, as Melissa just mentioned, and the more general question of whether or not this person should be disqualified by many parts of our society from being in the public square and from being able to potentially even run for office again.… I do think [that informal process of disqualification is] Mitch McConnell’s agenda. He does not want Donald Trump to define the Republican party. He is trying to save the Republican party from Donald Trump.” (video 56:39)
Gillian Metzger: “It’s a kind of constitutional compromise, not necessarily intended, but one where the Senate can make clear and sort of affirm the facts of what happened for the historical record and for the popular view, and avoid the more draconian move [of convicting Trump]…. The vote itself, I think, has a kind of public resonance that can allow a certain kind of distancing without necessarily the hard edge of disqualification.” (video 58:05)
Bob Bauer: “I have a darker view of what acquittal would mean, and I think it’s going to be an acquittal. I think it would obviously be better that a majority of the Senate go on record here. But I think that in the media world that we live in, the ability of the other side to present this as yet the second time that the Democrats tried to bring Donald Trump down—and some… misguided, if not treacherous, Republicans who voted with them—that it is going to feed into what I think Trump’s politics really prize, which is a narrative of both victimization and of continuously having to fight off elite forces that don’t speak for the American people the way that he does and therefore are trying to undermine him. I think the headline will be ‘Trump Acquitted.’ That will be the headline he holds up.” (video 60:46)
Follow the discussion on video:
Posted February 23, 2021