How to Impeach a Utah State Officer in 5 Easy Steps

Jul 2, 2013

The Utah House of Representatives will begin an investigation into Attorney General John Swallow on July 3rd. While it IS NOT the beginning of impeachment proceedings, the results of the investigation could push them in that direction. But what does it mean to impeach someone, and how do you do it? Well, here’s a step-by-step guide. “How To Impeach a State Officer”

Step 1: Convene the House

The impeachment process starts in the House of Representatives so they have to be in session before you can do anything. But, If it isn’t already, like right now, the Speaker of the House may assemble the members if two-thirds vote in favor of doing so.

Step 2: Resolve to Impeach and Then Decide How

Once assembled, the House would then need to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of the state officer, like the Attorney General for example. This part essentially lays out the motivation behind the impeachment and gets the ball rolling. After that, the House would then need to pass another resolution outlining the rules and procedures for the impeachment process. Where do these rules come from? According to the legislature’s general counsel, the House is pretty much given a blank check. They can define the rules and procedures any way they’d like. Create a committee to investigate? Sure. Hire outside investigators and attorneys? Go for it. It’s even up to them to decide what the constitutional standard of impeachment is, which includes defining the meaning of “high crimes, misdemeanors, and malfeasance in office.”

Step 3: Pass Articles of Impeachment

While we’re already on step 3, no one has actually been impeached yet. But, that is the next step. After all the evidence is gathered a final resolution is written which includes the Articles of Impeachment. Similar to an indictment, the Articles of Impeachment are simply a list of charges the legislature is bringing against the accused state officer. Each one of the articles is voted on separately and needs approval by at least two-thirds of the House to pass. If any of the articles is passed then:

WE HAVE IMPEACHMENT!

But that’s not the end of the process. Being impeached does not mean you have to leave office. Think Bill Clinton, who was impeached by the U.S. House but not convicted by the U.S. Senate. It works the same here in Utah.

Step 4: Senate Holds a Trial

Once the House passes articles of impeachment they hand them over to both the Senate and the person they’ve just impeached. At this point the impeached officer is suspended from performing their job until the outcome of the Senate Trial. The purpose of the trial is to prove or disprove any of the Articles of Impeachment sent by the House. And just like any trial, the Senate calls witnesses and considers evidence. But just like the House can create their own rules for impeachment, the Senate gets to define, by a majority vote, the policies and procedures that govern their trial.

Step 5: Convict or Acquit

Like any trial there are two possible outcomes. Either two-thirds of the Senators vote that one or more article has been proven and the impeached officer is convicted, or they don’t, and he’s acquitted.

If found guilty, there are a couple of options. The Senate can suspend him without pay, or they can decide to kick him out of office and prohibit the person from ever holding any state office of honor, trust, or profit.

File: Utah Attorney General John Swallow
File: Utah Attorney General John Swallow
Credit Brian Grimmett

If the John Swallow case would get to this point, it would be the first time in Utah history. In fact, no Utahn has ever even been impeached.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Should Utah Attorney General John Swallow be impeached? Or is he just the unfortunate victim of a media firestorm?

Sources:

Memo from Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel to Utah House 

Utah Constitution Article VI, Sections 17-20 

Utah Code Sections 77-5-1 through 77-5-12