Thursday, December 19, 2019
"The Senate is not simply a jury," [Chief Justice William Rehnquist] ruled. "It is a court in this case." Rehnquist thus admonished the House Managers "to refrain from referring to the Senators as jurors." For the balance of the trial, they were called "triers of law and fact." Rehnquist and Harkin got it right. Article III of the Constitution provides that "Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury," and for good reasons.
In an ordinary trial, the jury's role is generally limited to fact-finding, while the judge determines the scope and application of the law. In an impeachment trial, however, the Senate itself has the "sole power" to decide every issue. Recognizing the Senate's all-encompassing responsibility, and his own limited role, Chief Justice Rehnquist referred to himself throughout the proceeding only as "the Chair."
As the U.S. Supreme Court has put it, impeachment presents a "political question," in which all of the "authority is reposed in the Senate and nowhere else."
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