Opinions and Legal Insights

Ornstein: Impeach Amy Coney Barrett

My column this morning in the Hill discussed a call by columnist and professor Norm Ornstein to impeach Amy Coney Barrett if she does not yield to a demand to recuse herself from any election challenge before the Court. A demand for such recusal was filed yesterday in the Supreme Court. Ornstein’s call for impeachment is the latest unhinged response to Barrett nomination and further decouples our national debate from any sense rationality and restraint.

Ornstein declared on Twitter: “If Amy Coney Barrett goes on the Court and immediately votes for PA voter suppression, she should quickly be impeached. Trump asked her openly to act to tilt the scales of the election.”

I have already addressed the recusal calls as entirely baseless.  Recusal under these circumstances would create a dangerous precedent for future nominees who are pressured to recuse solely to influence the outcome of pending or expected cases. There is not a single case in history where such a recusal of the justice has occurred under this type of flimsy claim. Barrett has no personal, professional, or financial interest in pending election cases.

We have had only one justice ever impeached in our history. That was Samuel Chase in 1804 and he was acquitted by the Senate in 1805.

The Chase case is a telling point of comparison. Like today, the politics of the time were lethal and hysterical. Chase was a highly partisan Federalist who was tainted by the use of the Alien and Sedition Acts to attack political critics during the Administration of John Adams.  The impeachment, supported by Thomas Jefferson, was based on Chase’s presiding on controversial trials for figures like James Callender. Despite the Federalist being in the minority in the Senate, the senators overwhelmingly rejected the case against Chase.

It remains to be seen if we have a  bipartisan majority of senators equally committed to the integrity of the Court and the Constitution today.