The first Senate impeachment trial in more than a decade begins Monday as senators meet to consider removing U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. The House voted unanimously in March to impeach Porteous, almost two years after the Judicial Conference of the United States referred him to Congress for impeachment proceedings. The 63-year-old judge, based in New Orleans, faced four articles of impeachment, including allegations that he lied during background investigations related to his 1994 nomination to the federal bench. Federal court officials on Friday extended his suspension from the bench through the end of the year. The 12-member Senate Impeachment Trial Committee, led by Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), will start hearing arguments from lawyers representing the House of Representatives and Porteous. The panel will vote at the end of the trial whether to refer a conviction to the Senate. Porteous would be the eighth federal judge in U.S. history removed by Congress, if convicted by the Senate. The proceedings will be similar to a trial, with each side allotted up to 20 hours to call witnesses and present evidence, according to the committee. Senators are allowed to ask questions of the witnesses. The hearings will run from about 8 a.m. through 7 p.m. each day through Thursday and likely will continue next Tuesday, aides said. Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) will serve as lead managers for the House with the assistance of Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).
Porteous is represented by a team of lawyers led by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley and Dan Schwartz with the law firm of Bryan Cave. The four articles of impeachment are either vague or relate to events that occurred before Porteous joined the federal bench, they argue in their pre-trial statement: "The House has made, and can be expected to continue to make, vague references to offenses, such as 'kickback' and 'bribery,' as if they had been alleged by the House in voting out the Articles of Impeachment, when in fact they were not," the lawyers said. "Three of the four Articles seek to remove Judge Porteous largely on the basis of conduct that allegedly occurred while he was a state court judge, although it is generally agreed that such 'pre-federal' conduct should not be a basis for removing a federal judge. ... If removed on the basis of an appearance of impropriety, the Senate would set a dangerously low and ill-defined standard for future impeachments – the very danger that the Framers sought to avoid in carefully crafting the impeachment language." But a New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial published Saturday called for a swift conviction: "We've had to live with this crooked judge in office for far too long," the paper said, noting that allegations of wrongdoing first surfaced more than seven years ago.
"A mountain of evidence, and guilty pleas from several people involved, have since shown how Judge Porteous further prostituted his office," the editorial board wrote, adding later, "If all this is not enough to kick a judge off the bench, then the impeachment process is meaningless." This is the first Senate impeachment trial for a federal judge since 1989, according to the committee. Hatch is the only member of the committee who also sat for that trial. According to the National Law Journal (subscription required), the House impeached U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent last year after he pleaded guilty to obstructing a sexual harassment investigation against him. He resigned before the Senate could hold a trial.
Members of the Senate Impeachment Trial Committee:
Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- Chairman
Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) -- Vice Chairman
John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)
Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)
Ted Kaufman (D-Del.)
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
James E. Risch (R-Idaho)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)
Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)