How Do You Impeach a Former President?

The Senate could vote to bar him from ever running for office again

Max Ufberg
GEN
Published in
3 min readJan 13, 2021

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Photo: Go Nakamura/Getty Images

Less than a week before President Trump’s term ends, the House has voted to impeach him for the second time. But the Senate is in recess until January 19, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday rejected the call for an emergency session for Trump’s impeachment trial. That means a trial wouldn’t take place until Trump is out of office.

Can you even impeach a former president?

The constitutionality of impeaching a former president is murky. While you obviously can’t remove someone from a position they don’t currently hold, senators can hold a separate vote to prevent that person from ever seeking public office again.

Some experts believe a former president, as a private citizen, would be exempt from any process geared toward public servants; others say the penalty of being barred from holding office should clearly apply to former officials as well. And, for what it’s forth, many top lawmakers over the years have supported the impeachment of former presidents. Former Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, for example, once suggested that Bill Clinton be re-impeached for pardoning Marc Rich, a wealthy Democratic donor and fugitive, on his last day in office. More recently, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a close Trump ally, said he believed former president Barack Obama should be impeached.

Has it ever happened before?

There is some precedent here: In 1876, the Senate held an impeachment trial for former Secretary of War William Belknap. During that trial, the Senate voted — by a simple majority rather than the usual two-thirds required for any impeachment proceedings — that indeed it did have the power to try a former official. It’s quite possible that the Senate will hold a similar vote in the weeks ahead, to determine by simple majority whether it has the authority to convict Trump once he’s out of office.

Can Trump challenge Congress’s determination?

Yes. Should the Senate vote in favor of its jurisdiction, Trump could challenge the decision in the federal court system. There’s reason to…

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Max Ufberg
GEN
Writer for

Writer and editor. Previously at Medium, Pacific Standard, Wired