Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is set to begin next week as he faces allegations of inciting an insurrection at the Capitol that took place on Jan. 6, the same day Trump spoke at a massive rally and encouraged a protest, claiming there was fraud in the 2020 election.
The Senate has never heard an impeachment trial for a president who was no longer in office. Democrats supporting impeachment claim it is necessary in order to bar Trump from ever running again. This raises the question: If Trump is convicted, will he be prohibited from seeking the presidency again? The answer, like with many legal and political questions, is maybe.
“Judgment in Cases of Impeachment 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,” the Constitution says in Article 1, Section 3.
This certainly allows for the possibility that Trump could be kept from seeking future office, but it would not be automatic upon conviction.
Senate rules state that if the necessary two-thirds of the senators present vote to convict, the subject is immediately removed from office, and a second vote may be held if they choose to determine whether the convicted official will be disqualified from holding any future office. Only a simple majority is needed for this vote. The Senate has previously convicted eight officials — all judges — and only three were barred from holding office again.
Of course, in the current matter there was the question of whether a former official could even be tried by the Senate since they are already out of office. This has happened before, with the 1876 impeachment of former Secretary of War William Belknap. Belknap had resigned prior to his impeachment, and the Senate voted that it indeed has jurisdiction over former officials.
While that jurisdiction is not clearly laid out in the Constitution, there is some support for it. President John Quincy Adams once said, “I hold myself, so long as I have the breath of life in my body, amenable to impeachment by this House for everything I did during the time I held any public office.” The British system, which preceded and inspired the American one, allowed for the impeachment of any civilian. That is not to mean that the American system would automatically follow suit, however, as American impeachments already differ from the British by requiring a two-thirds vote to convict.
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