After moving to Del Boca Vista Phase III, Morty Seinfeld takes an interest in politics and wants to run for condo board president. But Jerry tells his father ” you can’t run for condo president because you were impeached at the other condo.” So instead, Morty decides to back Kramer in the next condo board election. But is Jerry correct? Can Morty be prevented from running for office in the future?
Under the Constitution, there are actually two steps to the impeachment process. In the first step, the House of Representatives takes a simple vote to “impeach” either the President or any federal official. So “impeach” simply means that the House of Representatives has found a Federal official to have committed some kind of wrongdoing. In the second step, the Senate acts as a jury in a trial and votes on whether they found the impeached person to have actually committed the actions they are accused of by the House.
The Constitution provides that “judgment 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.” So there are, in effect, two possible punishments for impeachment: (1) removal from office and (2) disqualification from holding office in the future.
An impeachment investigation itself is incredibly rare! It’s only happened 20 times in the history of the United States (five times for Presidents: James Buchanan. Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and, most recently, Donald Trump). For an impeached official to be convicted and removed from office is even more rare, and only three individuals have actually been barred from ever holding future office.
The first such case was West Hughes Humphreys, who served as a Federal judge in Tennessee before supporting the Confederacy in the Civil War and acting as a judge for the Confederacy. The Senate found him guilty and banned him for life.
The second was Robert Woodrow Archibald, who was an early 20th century judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. After a lengthy investigation into accusations that he accepted gifts from litigants who frequently appeared in his court, he was convicted by the Senate and barred for life from service in a Federal position.
The third, and most recent, is from 2010 and involved Gabriel Thomas Porteous Jr., a Federal judge in Louisiana. He was accused of Perjury by filing false disclosure forms that concealed gifts he had received from litigants who appeared in his courtroom. Like the two before him, Archibald was found guilty and barred from life from holding a Federal position. Only two senators voted against the resolution.
So, in short, the three crimes committed to warrant a ban from ever holding Federal office are: (1) treason, (2) corruption, and (3) corruption. But what was Morty Seinfeld impeached for? Supposedly he was stealing from the retirement community coffers, when in actuality it was just Jerry who had bought him a new car. Morty’s actions are certainly not treasonous, but do they show a level of corruption that should disqualify him from future office?
We don’t think so, and for one important reasons: Morty is an elected official. The three individuals barred from holding future Federal office were all judges, who must be appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. Thus, the Senate may be more willing to bar the individual office since it was the Senate who confirmed their appointment in the first place. But no President has ever been removed from office, only one other executive official has even been investigated for impeachment (resigned), and one Senator was expelled from the Senate instead of being removed through impeachment.
We don’t know if a future Senate will ever remove a President from office and then take the dramatic step of banning that ex-President from ever holding Federal office again. But we do know that it is possible under the Constitution. While the punishment for Morty seems unlikely, it’s definitely possible.