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Former Pres­ident Donald Trump is being impeached again. | Wiki­media Commons

As the U.S. Senate begins a new impeachment trial for former Pres­ident Donald Trump, Hillsdale College’s pol­itics pro­fessors expressed skep­ticism about its con­sti­tu­tion­ality and outcome.

According to Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Mickey Craig, the Senate’s vote to impeach was clearly uncon­sti­tu­tional, in con­trast to last year’s impeachment vote that passed through the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives while Trump still held office. 

“My opinion is that since Donald Trump is now a private citizen and no longer pres­ident, he is no longer subject to impeachment clauses, and I think the fact that Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts has refused to preside at the Senate trial means he agrees with that,” Craig said. “It is not proper to use the impeachment clauses against a private citizen, and Trump is now a private citizen. Of course, Sen. Schumer and a majority of the U.S. Senate dis­agrees.”

Trump’s second impeachment trial began Feb. 9 after a 56 – 44 vote in the Senate declared it con­sti­tu­tional, according to CNN. Six Repub­licans sided with the Democrats after what Fox News described as “four hours of emo­tional tes­timony and bitter debate” on the Senate floor, as law­makers watched a montage of scenes from the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol protest. 

The Senate’s decision to move forward with the impeachment of a pres­ident who has already left office is con­sti­tu­tionally ambiguous, according to Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Joseph Postell. 

“Since Trump is not the pres­ident, vice pres­ident, or a civil officer, he arguably is not subject to the impeachment pro­vision,” Postell said.

On the other hand, Postell pointed out that there is his­torical precedent for impeaching officers who resign before their trials. 

“The Senate decided in these cases that officers could not escape the trial simply by resigning,” Postell said. “But Trump did not resign to escape trial — his term ended. So the precedent may not be directly applicable.”

Some have spec­u­lated that a vote to convict would bar Trump from running for office in the future. While the Con­sti­tution states that the penalty for impeachment and removal “shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and dis­qual­i­fi­cation to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust, or Profit under the United States,” Postell pointed out there is one caveat to this.

“The goal of the impeachment trial may be to dis­qualify him from running for future office, but dis­qual­i­fi­cation from holding ‘any office…under the United States’ may apply only to appointed, not elected posi­tions,” he said. “So under this inter­pre­tation, Trump could still run for Con­gress or the pres­i­dency.” 

Craig also noted the impos­si­bility of barring Trump from running for office, but spec­u­lated that the Democrats would hold a vote anyway. 

“There are probably only 55 votes in the Senate for ‘dis­qual­i­fying’ Trump to hold any office in the future. It would, of course, take 67 votes for that motion to pass,” he said. “I’d say Schumer’s desire to have a trial and vote is pri­marily aimed at sat­is­fying certain fac­tions in the Demo­c­ratic party’s base.”

Postell agreed that the like­lihood of Trump being con­victed is extremely low, given the fact that sen­ators are no longer elected through each state’s leg­is­lature, as in the original U.S. Con­sti­tution. After the passage of the 17th amendment, sen­ators were elected directly.

“The reason he probably won’t be con­victed is that Trump is not unpopular enough in 2/3 of the sen­ators’ dis­tricts. Now that sen­ators are directly elected, they have less inde­pen­dence to act as the branch of Con­gress that can resist public opinion,” he explained. “And public opinion in their dis­tricts is not tilted enough against Trump to cause them to vote to convict.”

Ulti­mately, both Postell and Craig agree that Trump’s second impeachment — much like the first one — is more sym­bolic than earnest. 

“Democrats are pro­ceeding with this, I suspect, because they have to play to their own base, which wants Trump to face account­ability,” Postell said. “This is illus­trative of the 21st century Con­gress: members are more inter­ested in taking stands on highly public issues than doing serious leg­islative study and work.”

Senior pol­itics majors said Con­gress’ decision to pursue impeachment was a waste of time.

“I think it’s a huge waste of time and it doesn’t make sense on the part of the Democrats, because they could be pushing their policy pri­or­ities, but they’re focusing on this instead,” Clayton DeJong said.

Carl Miller said the impeachment is uncon­sti­tu­tional “regardless of the merits.”

“And the merits for this impeachment are severely lacking,” Miller added.

Braden VanDyke, senior class pres­ident said impeaching a former pres­ident is “neither right nor sen­sible.” 

“It sets a dan­gerous precedent, it’s con­sti­tu­tion­ality and legality is unsure, and it goes directly against any alleged or intended peaceful transfer of power,” VanDyke said. “If and because impeachment is reserved for high crimes and mis­de­meanors, it is dan­gerous and irre­spon­sible to allow it to slide into the political par­tisan toolbox.”

Allison Schuster con­tributed to this report.