Explainer: How impeachment works in Utah


It’s not just D.C. that’s talking about impeachment. After a pattern of concerning behavior, the State School Board has been asked via petition to remove one of its members. It can’t. There are only three ways a School Board member can be removed: impeachment, resignation or replaced at the next election. (There is no provision for censure, either, although the Board can remove a member from their committee assignments.)


So let’s talk about impeachment.

State code says: “The governor and other state and judicial officers shall be liable to impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors or malfeasance in office.”

So that means that a crime must be committed, right?

Actually, no.

High crimes and misdemeanors” is an old English “term of art” that goes back at least to the 1300s. It involves conduct that includes an abuse of power, or a serious breach of trust or some other behavior that demonstrates an official’s unsuitability for office – whether the conduct is criminal or not. 

The federal Congressional Research Service summarized “high crimes and misdemeanors” this way:  “High crimes” was used to describe political offenses to the state….The addition of the word “misdemeanors” suggests that civil officers may also be charged with “minor breaches of ethical conduct, misuse of power and neglect of duty, as well as more prolonged, egregious or financially rapacious misconduct.”

That analysis also relies on the Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton. Federalist 65 addresses impeachment.

Mr Hamilton defines impeachment proceedings as being for those offenses “which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” (emphasis in the original).

Mr. Hamilton spends a fair amount of time explaining why this is a legislative process and does not fall under the judicial branch. To avoid the “double-jeopardy” of being tried for the same offense twice, Mr Hamilton makes it clear that any person who had been through the entire impeachment process would “still be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law.”

This process is political in the originalist sense of the term, insofar as it is a remedy for “political” crimes against the body politic. According to CRS, an impeachment trial…stands wholly separate from a criminal proceeding. Neither impeachment by the House nor conviction by the Senate precludes criminal indictment or conviction on charges related to crimes for which [an officer] was impeached. As a political process, impeachment and conviction as delineated in the Constitution seek to protect the integrity of American political and judicial institutions.

Criminal proceedings and impeachment serve fundamentally different purposes: the former is designed to punish an offender and seek retribution, while the latter is the first step in a remedial process. The purpose of impeachment is not personal punishment, but rather to maintain constitutional government through removal of unfit officials from positions of public trust.

The process of impeachment in Utah is basically the same as on the national level: the House would be the spot for an impeachment investigation and subsequent vote to impeach. Impeachment requires a two-thirds vote of the body. If impeached, then the Senate would hear arguments and they would vote to convict, which also requires a two-thirds majority. If impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, the person is removed from office and is barred from running for office again. 

And now you know.