Is impeaching President Trump ‘pointless revenge’? Not if it sends a message to future presidents

President Donald Trump greets the crowd at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

A House majority, including 10 Republicansvoted on Jan. 13 to impeach President Trump for “incitement of insurrection.” The vote will initiate a trial in the Senate – but that trial will likely not be finished before Trump’s term of office comes to an end on Jan. 20.

There is an open constitutional question about whether a president can be impeached after he has left office. A more basic question asks about the point of impeaching Trump. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, writing in The Washington Post, described the entire exercise as “pointless revenge.”

“It isn’t principled, it isn’t concerned with justice and it isn’t concerned with the future,” he stated.

As a scholar who writes about the moral justifications of social and legal institutions, I argue that there may be good moral reason for this impeachment – even if it cannot be completed before Trump leaves office.

Impeachment is not a criminal procedure; it is generally described as “quasi-criminal” in American law.

The philosophical justifications given for the institution of criminal law, however, might help us understand the purposes this impeachment might serve. 01-13-21

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