My friend Gene Healy from the Cato Institute calls Laurence Tribe the “dean of con-law [constitutional law] professors,” but can’t understand Tribe’s fascination with impeaching President Trump. Tribe, who teaches at Harvard, typically takes a more balanced approach to the law. In 2015 he was excoriating the EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions plan in front of Congress. But now he has spent months calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump. Healy writes:
Former labor secretary Robert Reich says we should impeach Trump for “abridging the freedom of the press” by … calling the media names and “choosing who he invites to news conferences.” In his rushed-to-publication tome, The Case for Impeachment, American University’s Allan J. Lichtman argues that Trump can be removed for the “crime against humanity” of global-warming skepticism.
Are these really the sorts of offenses that qualify as “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”? To divine the meaning of that phrase, it would help to have the guidance of a preeminent constitutional scholar — someone such as Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, whose treatise American Constitutional Law has been “cited more than any other legal text since 1950.”
Unfortunately, Trump’s election seems to have rattled Tribe hard enough to knock loose both his constitutional standards and his sense of proportion. The dean of con-law professors has spent the administration’s opening months frantically hurling charges at Trump, and managing mainly to impeach his own reputation in the process.
Impeachment “Should Begin On Inauguration Day,” Tribe declared in December; by January 28, he had concluded that Trump “must be impeached for abusing his power and shredding the Constitution more monstrously than any other president in American history” — pretty impressive for a man entering the second week of his presidency.
What’s funny about all this is, when it was Bill Clinton’s political life on the line, Tribe nearly threw his back out trying to raise the constitutional bar for removal. In his November 1998 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Tribe insisted that “an impeachable offense must itself severely threaten the system of government or constitute a grievous abuse of official power or both.” Perjury and obstruction to cover up an illicit affair weren’t nearly grave enough.
Hell, back then even murder was a close call in Tribe’s eyes, if the president did the deed himself, for personal reasons. In his testimony, Tribe emphasized the fact that “when Vice President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in July 1804 … Burr served out his term, which ended in early 1805,” without getting impeached. “There may well be room to argue,” Tribe grudgingly conceded, that a contemporary president could be impeached for an extracurricular homicide — but that exception “must not be permitted to swallow [the] rule.” Whack a guy in Weehawken and we might have to let you get away with it; lie about him on Twitter, though, and you’ve got to go.
Charges of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” are often just a debater’s dodge, used to change the subject from the president’s behavior to his critics’ alleged hang-ups. Spend any time following Laurence Tribe on social media, though, and you’ll begin to think of it as an actual, clinical condition.
Read more here.