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Worked example: History passage, part 1

Watch Sal work through Part 1 of an SAT Reading: History and social studies passage.

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Video transcript

- [Man] Okay, we have a passage here. It says this passage is adapted from a speech delivered by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas on July 25, 1974, as a member of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives. In the passage, Jordan discusses how and when a United States president may be impeached, or charged with serious offenses, while in office. Jordan's speech was delivered in the context of impeachment hearings against then president Richard M. Nixon, so this is fascinating. All right, let's start reading it. Today, I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would overstate the solemness that I feel right now. That's a fascinating statement, she's saying a hyperbole, even in the exaggeration, really isn't an exaggeration, it would not be fictional, it would not overstate how solemn she is feeling. So she is feeling quite solemn, she is taking this very seriously. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution. These are some serious words here, let's keep going. "Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation "as the representatives of the nation themselves?" "The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses "which proceed from the misconduct of public men." And they have this little asterisk here, so it looks like if we go to the bottom of it, they're saying Jordan quotes from Federalist No. 65, an essay by Alexander Hamilton, published in 1788, on the powers of the United States Senate, including the power to decide cases of impeachment against a president of the United States. So once again, if we go back to where we said, this is a quote from the Federalist Papers. "Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation "as the representatives of the nation themselves?" So Hamilton's saying, hey look, these are the people, these representatives, these are the people who can be the inquisitors, especially when the offenses proceed from the misconduct of public men. And that's what we're talking about, now this is her talking again. In other words, the jurisdiction comes from the abuse or violation of some public trust. So she's making an argument, look, Congress has a voice here, that there is some violation of the public trust, so they are the appropriate inquisitors. It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office. The Constitution does not say that, or doesn't say that. The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of the body of the legislature against and upon the encroachments of the executive. The division between the two branches of the legislature, the House and the Senate, assigning to the one the right to accuse, that's the House, and to the other, the right to judge, the framers of this Constitution were very astute. They did not make the accusers and the judges the same person, fascinating. We know the nature of impeachment. We've been talking about it a while now. It is chiefly designed for the President and his high ministers to somehow be called into account. It is designed to bridle the executive if he engages in excesses. "It is designed as a method of national inquest "into the conduct of public men." So she's quoting again from the Federalist Papers, they have the asterisk there. The framers confided in the Congress the power, if need be, to remove the President in order to strike a delicate balance between a President swollen with power and grown tyrannical, and preservation of the independence of the executive. So there's a balance, if the president is swollen with power and grown tyrannical, hey, then that's an appropriate time for impeachment or even the removal of the president, but then you also have to preserve the independence of the executive, that's what the balance of power is. The nature of impeachment, a narrowly channeled exception to the separation of powers maxim. So once again, it's an exception that typically the president and the Congress should be separate, but the Congress, it starts to have jurisdiction when the president does something really over the top. The Federal Convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes, to high crimes and misdemeanors, and discounted and opposed the term maladministration. So they're saying, hey look, impeachment isn't just 'cause you don't think that the president is doing a great job, or does something slightly bad, it's for high crimes and misdemeanors. "It is to be used only for great misdemeanors," so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: "We do not trust our liberty to a particular branch. "We need one branch to check the other." The North Carolina ratification convention, so this is what they said, "No one need be afraid that officers who commit oppression "will pass with immunity." "Prosecutions of impeachments will seldom fail to agitate "the passions of the whole community," said Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, number 65. "We divide into parties more or less friendly "or inimical," or inimical, inimical, (laughs) I always have trouble saying that, "inimical to the accused." I do not mean political parties in that sense. Oh, in the Federalist Papers, hey, you know what, if there is a prosecution of impeachment, people are going to have opinions about it, it's going to agitate the passions of the whole community. People are going to divide into parties that are either kinda for the impeachment or against the impeachment, and hopefully not along party lines, just people who are sympathetic to the impeachment or not. The drawing of political lines goes to the motivation behind impeachment; but impeachment must proceed within the confines of the constitutional term high crimes and misdemeanors. Of the impeachment process, it was Woodrow Wilson who said that "Nothing short of the grossest offenses "against the plain law of the land will suffice "to give them speed and effectiveness. "Indignation," so this is kind of disapproval, "so great as to overgrow party interest "may secure a conviction, but nothing else can." So once again, the drawing of political lines, obviously one party is going, especially if the opposing party of the president, they're gonna be the ones that are gonna motivate, be motivated to maybe start impeachment proceedings, but the indignation, the disapproval of what the president has done has to be great enough to overcome party lines in order to secure a conviction. So it can't just be, or it shouldn't just be one party trying to do something political. Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for petty reasons. Congress has a lot to do: appropriations, tax reform, health insurance, campaign finance reform, that's amazing, they were talking about a lot of this stuff in 1974, and they still are, housing, environmental protection, energy sufficiency, mass transportation. Pettiness cannot be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems. So today we're not being petty. We're tying to be big, because the task we have before us is a big one. So she is taking this very, very, very seriously.