SC justice wanted out by Thomas Jefferson acquitted by president’s allies 206 years ago

SC justice wanted out
by Thomas Jefferson
acquitted by president’s 
allies 206 years ago

Editor-in-Chief, Dyaryo Magdalo

It is best to learn from the past to know what to do in the future.  Let us look back at the impeachment trial of then US Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase in the year 1805 in the hope of getting guidance in the hottest event for Filipinos at the start of the year: the Impeachment Trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.
Third US President Thomas Jefferson

The impeachment of Chase was instigated by then President Thomas Jefferson in the House of Representatives that was controlled by his party, Democratic-Republican.

Chase got the ire of President Jefferson over a series of public acts of the justice, including the act of unleashing a tirade against the policies of Jefferson before the grand jury of Baltimore, Maryland.

In 1796, even after Chase had accepted the position as a Supreme Court associate justice, he made partisan speeches during the presidential campaign of John Adams, the candidate of the Federalist Party.  Chase was a politician before he was appointed to the judiciary.

Adams would win later as the second president of the USA. The first is George Washington.

In 1798, Chase pushed for the passage of Alien and Sedition Act outlawing false, scandalous, and malicious attacks on the government, the president, or the Congress.  This angered Jefferson because it was designed to discourage criticisms from rival Democratic-Republican Party, whose most known leader was Jefferson.
US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase

In 1799 and 1800, Chase imposed harsh sentences on Democratic-Republicans for publishing opinions hitting the administration of Adams.

Chase also at the same time manipulated to ensure that no one who opposed Federalism can sit as jurors in all jury trials. Democratic-Republicans were anti-federalists.

John Fries of Pennsylvania, a strong supporter of Jefferson, was sentenced to death by Chase for leading rebellions against federal excise taxes.  Lucky enough, Adams set aside the sentence.

In 1800, Jefferson defeated Adams to become the third president of the USA. But he was yet to assume the post on March 4, 1801. During the interregnum, the Federalists-controlled House of Representatives held what was called a lame-duck session to pass the Judiciary Act of 1801, which Adams took advantage by appointing all his men to opened judgeship positions.  Chase must have advised the outgoing president of doing these “midnight judges.”

So politicized Chase was that while sitting as a Supreme Court associate justice he criticized Jefferson in 1803 in front of the grand jury of Baltimore, Maryland, by uttering the following:

“…rapidly destroy all protection to property, and all security to personal liberty, and our Republican Constitution [would] sink into mobocracy, the worst of all possible governments.… The modern doctrines by our late reformers, that all men in a state of society are entitled to enjoy equal liberty and equal rights, have brought this mighty mischief upon us, and I fear that it will rapidly destroy progress, until peace and order, freedom and property shall be destroyed.”

This angered Jefferson and he wrote Joseph Nicholson, the leader of his Democratic-Republican allies who controlled the House of Representatives. Consequently, Chase was impeached on March 12, 1804 by a vote of 73-72.

There were eight articles of impeachment centering on three charges: (a) Chase’s remarks to the Baltimore grand jury; (b) the conduct in the 1800 treason trial of John Fries; and (c) the conduct in the 1800 sedition trial of James Callender.

But the Democratic-Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Chase on March 1, 1805, absolving him in all eight articles of impeachment constituting eight counts of committing acts of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The closest vote was 19-15 in favor of convicting Chase. However, the requirement for conviction was 22 votes or two-thirds of the Senate, which was peopled then by 29 Democratic-Republicans and 9 Federalists. 

Martin Luther, the lawyer of Chase, impressed the allies of Jefferson by delivering powerful arguments where he discussed ideas that Chase was a wronged man and that the integrity and independence of the federal judiciary would be imperiled by conviction.

The Democratic-Republican senators who voted in favor of Chase told Jefferson that impeachment trial of a Supreme Court justice is not open for political manipulations, despite open acts in supporting Adams and the Federalist’s agenda.  (Note: This must have distinguished impeachment trials between that of justices and that of the President, Vice-President and Constitutional Commissions chairmen and commissioners.)

The case against Chase was a test case of Jefferson. But since it failed, they did not pursue the plan to impeach then Chief Justice John Marshall.  In effect, the belief in keeping the independence of the judiciary strengthened.

If there is any usefulness in this, it is a persuasive argument that the 23 senators who are sitting as jurors of Corona must decide on the basis of evidence presented, not just because they are political enemies or allies of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

There is a need for a vote of 16 senators to convict the Chief Justice.

Only in this way of deciding on the basis of evidence can P-Noy’s anti-corruption agenda can find meaning.

Only in this way that the senators can set a precedent for making impeachment trials not as a political issue but a judicial issue that looks at the evidence and decide on the basis of at least substantial evidence.

It is indispensable for the senators-jurors to decide on the basis of proof of facts being proposed because the charges against the Chief Justice is in the nature of acts that were alleged to have happened. 

After all, the answer to a question of whether it is true that CJ Corona acted with bias in all the Gloria Arroyo-related cases he participated in can be answered only by “true” or “not true.” That question cannot be answered by saying: “We do not want his face, then the charges are true. “

This author posits that only evidence of substantial degree is needed because this is not a civil case and not a criminal proceeding, but more of a matter of being administrative for the purpose is only to remove the respondent from his office.

The nine senators who the media suspects to be for Corona should make extra efforts to show they are fair to facts. The other senators who the media believes will vote for conviction must also be stricken by their conscience.

          Interesting enough, the Chase impeachment trial has at least four parallels with Corona’s.
           Both were charged with eight articles of impeachment.

Both were charged to have acted with bias for their respective presidents: John Adams for Chase and Gloria Arroyo for Corona.

Both are facing the Senate controlled by the political party of the President.

Both cases are connected to midnight appointments: (a) in the case of Chase, it was his support to the mass appointments of judges done by President Adams during the last days of his term; (b) the appointment of Corona as Chief Justice during the time prohibited by the Philippine Constitution and this period is from two months prior the election and until the expiration of the term of Gloria on June 30, 2010.

It is however important to point out that in the case of Adams, there was no law yet prohibiting midnight appointments.  But in the case of Gloria, the constitution is very explicit in stating the prohibition.

            One thing is sure though, all the Filipinos will achieve a higher standard of traditions of morality and decency in office.
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