During the fall intensive, the In Pursuit of Justice class traveled to D.C. during a significant event: America’s third impeachment process. “We were given the opportunity to witness history in the making,” a member of the class, Serena Singerman, put it. As a class, we sat in on the House Judiciary Committee’s hearings for the impeachment process. We listened to questioning and watched as evidence was brought up, including the transcript of the call President Trump made to Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he asked for a “favor.” This call’s content was one of the main arguments brought up by Democrats in support of Trump’s impeachment.
The impeachment’s atmosphere was unforgettable. Our class sat in rows of armchairs which had been set up behind the reporters, witnesses, and those working for and with the various members of Congress. Security guards surrounded us in order to ensure the safety of the Representatives and mostly to prevent the many pictures civilians tried to take. We watched photographers running back and forth with cameras and observed large cameras taking footage for various news sources. The click of cameras snapped throughout the room and increased with a Representative’s passion in their speech. We could see the majority of the Representatives from our position with the exception of those blocked by the large cameras. As such, we felt connected to the ongoings of the hearing. Their clear speeches echoed through the room as our class sat at the end of our chairs, observing the historical moment.
The impeachment process begins when an Impeachment Resolution is brought up. Next, an investigation is led by the House Judiciary Committee into the resolution. This was the part of the impeachment process which the In Pursuit of Justice class viewed. The House Judiciary Committee creates the Articles of Impeachment which are then voted on by the same group. Next, they are brought to the House as a whole. The House votes on those Articles, and the President becomes impeached. Impeachment does not mean that the President is removed from office, which is a common misconception. The Articles of Impeachment are then brought to the Senate where they vote on the President’s removal from office in a trial which is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (in this case, John Roberts). The House is majority Democrat so there was no doubt that the Articles of Impeachment would go through, but the Senate is majority Republican so many believe that Trump will not be removed from office.
The In Pursuit of Justice intensive sat in on a day of questioning in which a witness gave a testimony and answered questions from Representatives. This drama of the hearing lead to Republicans demanding a point of order from Chairman Nadler. The point of order was due to arguments that the impeachment process was being conducted unfairly regarding the release of evidence; however, Chairman Nadler repeatedly shut down the remarks, telling Republicans that it was not a point of order, angering the Republicans further. Jacob Kaufman spoke on the hostility between Democrats and Republicans during the committee meeting. He reflected, “While at first it was unsettling to see the people that we look to for leadership and stability so against each other, it oddly turned into a feeling of reassurance that we have Representatives today that are so passionate about the Constitution, their ideas, and the people that put them in office.”
Another classmate, Anna Rose elaborated more on Democrats and Republican’s seeming inability to agree. She noted, “Not a single member of the Committee dissented from the views of the rest of their party...everyone on a given side had very similar arguments about why the President should or should not be impeached.” This repetition was something clear within the trial, which was interesting to view, bringing about questions as to why it was. Perhaps the stigmas surrounding opposing parties that Anna later touched on, saying, “[g]iven that impeachment is meant to be a bipartisan matter, it was interesting to see how today’s extremely polarized political landscape factors into the Constitutional responsibility of Congress to carry out impeachment.” Within America, there has become a large separation between views and ideals of Republicans and Democrats, leading to harsh fights which could clearly be seen throughout the impeachment process. Controversy over President Trump has furthered this divide across the government and our country as a whole.
A few days later, our class returned to watch the House Judiciary Committee once again. During this time, each Representative gave a five minute speech arguing their opinion on the subject of impeachment which took a total of four hours; however, our class had the opportunity to witness the workings of our government which was an incredible experience. One thing that particularly stuck out was a speech made by Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia’s 4th District. Representative Johnson described the era of Jim Crow laws in which African-Americans could not vote and noted his connection to this horrible time as he witnessed its effects in later years. He linked this impeachment process, with its roots in the perceived tainting of an election, to the Jim Crow era in which African-Americans were given many obstacles to their ability to vote. He argued that trying to rig the election would take away this long-fought concept which we each hold so dear as Americans. After watching the moving speeches of the Democrats and Republicans, our class waited to see if we could talk to any of the Representatives on the Committee. We talked to Representatives Lofgren, Neguse, and Dean. We told them about our class and the hearings’ important to us because of their historical significance. This message resonated with Representative Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania’s 4th District who mentioned our class in her speech the next day. She remarked, “Last night, as we left here...I went outside and there was a team of about twelve high school students from Ohio with their teacher. They said… ‘It was so interesting to watch and listen and hear what was going on at this historic time. We loved hearing about our Constitution.’” We did notice she had paraphrased and misquoted us in her explanation of what we had said, but we were ecstatic to have been mentioned in the speech of a Representative during this historic time.