Pursuant to Constitutional provisions, the power to impeach government officials is an express power granted to the legislature. Impeachment is the legislative power and authority to bring criminal chargers against a government official that are committed during the individual's time in office. It is important to denote that impeach relates directly to the removal from office of a government official, and the actual court proceedings are to be considered separate from the power to impeach.
The power to impeach is granted to the United States Congress. Each house has specific responsibilities and authority regarding the actual impeachment process. The House of Representatives has the actual power to impeach an official, while the United States Senate is responsible for conducting the trial contingent to an official being impeached. Once impeachment charges are brought to a government official, the Senate is responsible for the trial proceedings.
The court proceedings themselves are similar to those of a regular criminal trial, in which the involved parties have to right to perform cross-examinations as well as call witnesses to testify on their behalf. The prosecution's case is presented by the members of the House of Representatives and the government official will act as the defendant in the trial, mounting a case with his/her own lawyers and attorneys. All of the government officials involved in the impeachment trial proceedings are required to take an oath stating that their duties will be conducted with honesty and due diligence.
The charges will the be heard by the Senate, and upon doing so, will usually deliberate upon the findings and arguments in a private manner. In order for a conviction of an impeached government official to occur, the Senate requires a two-thirds majority vote.
The Senate will then render their decision for an acquittal or conviction, with a copy of their judgment also provided to the Secretary of State. If the impeached individual is found guilty, then that person will be automatically be removed and relieved of his/her office. The conviction may also deny for that individual to hold any other office in the future as well. Presidential pardons are not allowed for impeachment cases.
There has been some controversy in recent years regarding the implementation of the Senate using Impeachment Trial Committees. In the 1980s, these committees were called upon to deal with the phase regarding the presentation of evidence in the trial. Furthermore, they were also responsible for the supervision of the cross-examination procedures.
The committee would then present the record of all of the evidence presented during the trial to the Senate for review, prior to their eventual decision regarding the case. One of the main reasons that Impeachment Trial Committees were implemented was for the sole purpose of convenience and time management.
An impeachment trial would take a lot of the Senate's time, which would impede its normal function in the United States Congress. The dispute and controversy regarding these committees lies in the interpretation of the actual Constitutional provision and text regarding the power granted to the Senate to try all impeachment cases. Many have posed the argument that in delegating procedural duties to other committees in is direct violation of the Constitutional regulations, though the practice itself has not been brought under review by the courts.