GRAND INQUESTS by William H. Rehnquist


The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson
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 In a pleasant if unremarkable history lesson, America's Chief Justice (The Supreme Court, 1987) recounts ``two episodes in American history'' that were ``of extraordinary importance to the American system of government''--the impeachment trials of, in 1805, US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase and, in 1868, President Andrew Johnson. Rehnquist straightforwardly narrates the case of Chase, an ornery Federalist justice who was impeached by Jeffersonian Republicans for bias, intemperate pronouncements from the bench, and erroneous rulings in his conduct of criminal trials under the controversial Sedition Act--as well as that of Johnson, whom Radical Republicans impeached for dismissing Secretary of War Stanton in violation of the Tenure in Office Act. The author points out that both men were acquitted only because a number of senators defected from their party, and argues that the acquittals in these cases strengthened the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. In the case of Chase, Rehnquist asserts that ``the history of removals of federal judges by impeachment and conviction after the Chase testimony to the complete independence of federal judges from removal because of their judicial decisions.'' This is largely true, although Rehnquist fails to note the politically motivated efforts of the Nixon Administration to force liberal justices William O. Douglas and Abe Fortas from the Supreme Court. In the case of Johnson, Rehnquist correctly observes that, as a result of Johnson's acquittal, there has been only one serious attempt to impeach a president (Nixon), and that was based on criminal activity rather than disagreements on policy. The Chief Justice relates a great deal of American history, much of which, while interesting (and familiar), is tangential to his basic story. Not a seminal work of history, but a well-told and worthwhile look at two important incidents in the history of American government. (Eight pages of b&w photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: May 18th, 1992
ISBN: 0-688-05142-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1992