Constitutional drama, under our noses, off the radar

May 2, 2010

What about that impeachment trial, eh?  Planning to watch it?

Your best bet might be C-SPAN, but I wouldn’t wager the mortgage were I you.

Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate, 1868; from Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868 - public domain

Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate, 1868; from Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868 - public domain

Federal Judge Thomas Porteous of New Orleans got four articles of impeachment approved against him by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 10.  The first article got a nearly unanimous vote — who says the House is divided? — 412 to 0.  Three other articles got similar margins, 410-0, 416-0, and 423-0.

Unless you live in New Orleans or have a strange fascination for that great newspaper, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, you probably heard nothing about this great Constitutional drama. If you get the Times-Picayune, you’ve had good coverage of the issue so far.

Under its own special rules of impeachment, the Senate appointed a committee led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, which will hold the actual trial and report results to the full Senate for action.  Sen. McCaskill said she expects the trial to begin in early August, and that the report to the full Senate could come as soon as September.

While news media and bloggers chase ghosts and hoaxes, real work continues in Washington, D.C.  You just don’t hear much about it.

You likely have not heard of Judge Proteous’s troubles, though they are long-standing, because the issue was a local, Louisiana and New Orleans affair.  Heaven knows New Orleans has had its share of other stories to knock off the front pages the ethical lapses of a sitting federal judge who was once a promising attorney.

Should you have heard?  How can we judge?  Should we not be concerned when a relatively important story is not only bumped to the back pages of newspapers, but bumped completely out of them, and off the radar of people who need to be informed about how well our government works?

My alert to this story came through a back-door route.  On the list-serv for AP Government, someone asked who presides at the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice — remember, the Constitution spells out that the Chief Justice is the presiding officer in the impeachment of the President or Vice President.  My memory is that the Senate rules on impeachments, and there is a committee that effectively presides, and that the impeachment of a Vice President or President merits special attention because the Vice President is the official, Constitutionally-mentioned presiding officer.  We can’t have the vice president presiding at the trial of himself or herself, nor of the president.  Looking up impeachment procedures, I stumbled across the pending impeachment of Judge Porteous.  I don’t think it has appeared in our local newspaper, The Dallas Morning News.

Other judges have been impeached.  Here in Texas, within the past three years, we had a federal judge impeached, Samuel Kent.  You’d think Texas media would be sensitive to such stories. (Kent resigned before the trial could begin.)

I perceive that media are ignoring several important areas of federal governing, not necessarily intentionally, but instead by being distracted by nonentity stories or stories that just don’t deserve the inflated coverage they get.  Among undercovered areas are the environment, energy research, higher education, foreign aid, management of public lands and justice, including indictments, trials and convictions.  A vast gray hole where should be the news of Judge Porteous’s pending impeachment is just one symptom.

Several news outlets carried stories:

More:


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