Since the first impeachment of a federal official in 1797, there have been a total of 21 impeachments. In eight cases, it led to removal; in another three, the official resigned. The most recent was the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump. He was acquitted by the Senate.
Impeachment means charging a public official with misconduct. Like in the justice system, charges alone do not lead to consequences. Instead, there is a trial, during which the official is convicted or acquitted.
What does the Constitution say about the impeachment process?
The Constitution outlines the federal impeachment process across several sections, though Article II, Section 4 describes its purpose and use: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."
The "sole Power of Impeachment" rests with the House, as stated in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The Senate then conducts a trial and has the power to convict or acquit, according to Article I, Section 3. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the proceedings, and conviction occurs only if two-thirds of present senators concur with the charges. If someone is convicted, they are removed from office and barred from holding any government office. There are no criminal consequences, though the person may still be "liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law."
Article II, Section 2 states that the president has the power to pardon "except in Cases of Impeachment."
Who can be impeached?
While the Constitution explicitly names the president and vice president, it also states that all federal civil officers are impeachable. Historically, that has led to the impeachments of multiple federal judges and one cabinet-level appointee.
Members of Congress are not subject to removal by impeachment. In 1797, Senator William Blount became the first person impeached by Congress; two years later, the Senate concluded that he was not a civil officer and dismissed the charges. By then, Blount had already been expelled from the Senate under Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which grants the House and Senate separate processes by which a two-thirds majority can remove a member.
Who has been impeached?
Congress has impeached 15 judges, three presidents, one secretary of war, and, as mentioned, Senator Blount, whose charges were dismissed. President Trump is the only person to have been impeached twice.
In 11 out of the 21 impeachments, the official left office either through resignation or conviction, but none of them were presidents. Presidents Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump were all acquitted. President Richard Nixon resigned before the House concluded its impeachment proceedings and so is not counted.
Of the judges, 13 were from district courts, one was from the US Commerce Court, and one was an associate justice of the Supreme Court. The charges range from intoxication on the bench to waging war against the US government — for which West Hughes Humphreys, a district judge from Tennessee, lost his office after supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Eight of the 21 cases took place in the past 35 years, indicating that impeachment continues to be an active tool of US government.