Samuel Chase Impeachment Trial
In working through my next article, I’ve gotten more interested in the 1805 impeachment trial of Justice Samuel Chase. Chase’s acquittal by the Senate established the principle that Justices should not be removed from office simply because we do not like their rulings, ideology, or party. Indeed, no Justice has been impeached since (though Justice Fortas might have been had he not resigned after allegations of misconduct).
One facet of that trial complicates the story. Chase was impeached (largely) for being a partisan Federalist judge. Thus, his removal could have established the principle that excessive partisanship by judges was wrong. In other words, the trial was about whether Article III contemplated a neutral judiciary or an independent one. While the latter rule trumped in his case, a powerful norm eventually developed to support the idea that judges should be politically neutral and that the nomination and confirmation of judges must respect some neutral boundaries. (My account is kind of sketchy–part of my holiday reading will be about the details of the trial so that I can further develop this argument).