The Case Brief on Nixon v. United States
506 U.S. 224 (1993)

Facts: Walter L. Nixon, Jr., a federal district judge, was convicted of federal crimes and sentenced to prison. The House of Representatives adopted articles of impeachment against him and the Senate, following Rule XI, sent the matter to a committee of Senators to hear evidence and report that evidence to the full Senate. After the Senate voted to convict Nixon, he sued on the ground that Senate Rule XI violates the constitutional language that places upon the Senate, and not a committee of the Senate, to “have the sole power to try all impeachments.” A district court and appellate court held that his claim was nonjusticiable.

Senate Rule XI: That in the trial of any impeachment the Presiding Officer of the Senate, if the Senate so orders, shall appoint a committee of senators to receive evidence and take testimony at such times and places as the committee may determine…

Issues: What is/are the constitutional question(s) at hand?

The constitutional questions at hand are as follows [the key words are “TRY” and “SOLE:”
There are several difficulties with this position which lead us ultimately to reject it, (however). The word “try” both in 1787 and later, has considerably broader meanings than those to which petitioner would limit it. In more modern usage the term has various meanings. For example, try can mean “to examine or investigate judicially,” to conduct the trial of,” or “to put to the test by experiment, investigation, or trial.”
If the courts may review the actions of the Senate in order to determine whether that body “tried” an impeached official, it is difficult to see how the Senate would be “functioning…independently and without assistance or interference.”
The common sense meaning of the word “sole” is that the Senate alone shall have authority to determine whether an individual should be acquitted or convicted. The dictionary definition bears this out. “Sole” is defined as “having no companion,” “solitary,” “being the only one,” and “functioning…independently and without assistance or interference.”

***The Framers labored over the question of where the impeachment power should lie. Significantly, in at least two considered scenarios the power was placed with the Federal Judiciary. Indeed, James Madison and the Committee of Detail proposed that the Supreme Court should have the power to determine impeachments. Despite these proposals, the Convention ultimately decided that the Senate would have “the sole Power to try all Impeachments” [a powerful juxtaposition when it comes to that Committee of Detail and the Senate and a committee thereof in, that both committees are subordinate to and sort of subsidiaries to the Convention, firstly, then the Senate. Therefore the two are, and were, the leading and regulating powers].
The Supreme Court was not the proper body because the Framers “doubted whether the members of that tribunal would, at all times, be endowed with so eminent a portion of fortitude as would be called for in the execution of so difficult a task” or whether the Court “would possess the degree of credit and authority” to carry out its judgment if it conflicted with the accusation brought by the Legislature—the people’s representative. In addition, the Framers believed the Court was too small in number: “The awful discretion, which a court of impeachments must necessarily have, to doom to honor or to infamy the most confidential and the most distinguished characters of the community, forbids the commitment of the trust to a small number of persons.”
We agree with the Court of Appeals that opening the door of judicial review to the procedures used by the Senate in trying impeachments would “expose the political life of the country to months, or perhaps years, of chaos.” …This lack of finality would manifest itself most dramatically if the President were impeached. The legitimacy of any successor, and hence his effectiveness, would be impaired severely, not merely while the judicial process was running its course, but during any retrial that a differently constituted Senate might conduct if its first judgment of conviction were invalidated. Equally uncertain is the question of what relief a court may give other than simply setting aside the judgment of conviction.

*** …Nixon’s argument would place final reviewing authority with respect to impeachments in the hands of the same body that the impeachment process is meant to regulate.

Concurring/Held: What has the Supreme Court decided?
Yay: 1, Yay: 2, Yay: 3, Yay: 4, Yay: The Majority; and in accordance with Chief Justice Rehnquist’s deliverance of the opinion of the Court.

Reasoning: Why did the Supreme Court rule/hold the way that it did?

Justice Stevens, concurring.
For me, the debate about the strength of the inferences to be drawn from the use of the words “sole” and “try” is far less significant than the central fact that the Framers decided to assign the impeachment power to the Legislative Branch….Respect for a coordinate branch of the Government foreclosed any assumption that improbable hypotheticals like those mentioned…

Justice White, with whom Justice Blackmun joins, concurring in the judgment.
…I would prefer not to announce an unreviewable discretion in the Senate to ignore completely the constitutional direction to “try” impeachment cases. When asked at oral argument whether that direction would be satisfied if, after a House vote to impeach, the Senate, without any procedure whatsoever, unanimously found the accused guilty of being “a bad guy,” counsel for the United States answered that the Government’s theory “leads me to answer that question yes.” Especially in light of this advice from the Solicitor General, I would not issue an invitation to the Senate to find an excuse, in the name of other pressing business, to be dismissive of its critical role in the impeachment process….

***…while the majority rejects petitioner’s justiciability argument as espousing a view “inconsistent with the Framer’s insistence that our system be one of checks and balances,” it is the Court’s finding of non-justiciability that truly upsets the Framer’s careful design. In a truly balanced system, impeachments tried by the Senate would serve as a means of controlling the largely unaccountable Judiciary, even as judicial review would ensure that the Senate adhered to a minimal set of procedural standards in conducting impeachment trials.
The majority also contends that the term “try” does not present a judicially manageable standard….

***…Were the Senate, for example, to adopt the practice of automatically entering a judgment of conviction whenever articles of impeachment were delivered from the House, it is quite clear that the Senate will have failed to “try” impeachments….

Justice Souter, concurring in the judgment.
[Although Souter regards the Court as correct in dismissing this particular dispute as a political question, he can] envision different and unusual circumstances that might justify a more searching review of impeachment proceedings. If the Senate were to act in a manner seriously threatening the integrity of its results, convicting, say, upon a coin toss, or upon a summary determination that an officer of the United States was simply “‘a bad guy,’” judicial interference might well be appropriate….

Dissent: Petitioner argues that the word “try” in the first sentence imposed by implication an additional requirement on the Senate in that the proceedings must be in the nature of a judicial trial. From there petitioner goes on to argue that this limitation precludes the Senate from delegating to a select committee the task of hearing the testimony of witnesses, as was done pursuant to Senate Rule XI. “‘[T]ry’ means more than simply ‘vote on’ or ‘review’ or ‘judge.’ In 1787 and today, trying a case means hearing the evidence, not scanning a cold report.” Petitioner concludes from this that courts may review whether or not the Senate “tried” him before convicting him.
The argument would be such that the Senate was lazy and complacent in its manners of workings forcing the Judicial Branch to act and delegate, thus…perhaps acquitting Nixon.

Significance: There are two additional reasons why the Judiciary, and the Supreme Court in particular, were not chosen to have any role in impeachments. First, the Framers recognized that most likely there would be two sets of proceedings for individuals who commit impeachable offenses—the impeachment trial and a separate criminal trial. In fact, the Constitution explicitly provides for two separate proceedings. The Framers deliberately separated the two forms to avoid raising the specter of bias and to ensure independent judgements….

Second, judicial review would be inconsistent with the Framers’ insistence that our system be one of checks and balances [checks and balances furthermore being defined as allowing aforementioned branches to, conduct themselves independently, where adequate and necessary]. In our constitutional system, impeachment was designed to be the only check on the Judicial Branch by the Legislature…

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