Here is a guide to the process by which Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois might be removed from office
What is impeachment?Impeachment is the formal accusation of wrongdoing, lobbed by a legislative body against an executive branch official, such as a governor or a president.
Impeachment is somewhat analogous to an indictment the criminal court system.
It is only the first step of a two-step process.
Once an official is impeached (or accused) by the lower house of the legislative branch, he or she then must be tried by the upper body of the legislature.
Is the impeachment process in Illinois similar to the impeachment process used against U.S. presidents?
It’s almost identical.
According to the Illinois Constitution, the Illinois House of Representatives has the sole power to conduct investigations “to determine the existence of cause for impeachment” and, by a majority vote, to impeach (accuse) the governor.
Impeachment trials are conducted by the 59-member Illinois Senate.
“No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senators elected,” the Illinois Constitution says, mirroring a provision in the United States Constitution.
There are 59 senators, so 39 would be needed to convict Blagojevich, resulting in his removal from office.
Of what misconduct has the Illinois House accused Blagojevich?The House voted to impeach the governor for what it called “abuse of power” by engaging in “a plot to obtain a personal benefit in exchange for his appointment to fill the vacant seat in the United States Senate.” That seat that had been held by President-elect Barack Obama until he resigned on Nov. 16, 2008.
The impeachment resolution also accuses him of plotting to award state funds to the Tribune Company only if it fired certain members of the editorial board who had been critical of the governor.
The House also accused him of plotting to divert casino gambling revenues to the horse racing industry in exchange for campaign contributions, among other alleged misdeeds.
“I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing,” Blagojevich told reporters at a press conference Friday after the lower house of the legislature impeached him.
Has Blagojevich ever participated in an impeachment before?Yes, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, he voted “no” on all four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.
Can the Illinois Senate impose any penalty (fines, etc) on the governor beyond removal from office?No. But a conviction by the Senate would mean that in the future, Blagojevich would be disqualified from holding any public office in Illinois.
If Blagojevich is convicted by the state Senate, can he subsequently be indicted in a federal court for any crimes he may have committed?Yes.
Is the impeachment and trial process fair? After all, many of the people serving as jurors in the Illinois Senate are now his political adversaries. His fate won’t be in the hands of an impartial and disinterested jury, will it?No, he won't be facing a disinterested jury. But the impeachment process, both the federal level and state level, is a political process. That’s what the Framers of the United States Constitution deliberately chose. And most state constitutions follow the U.S. Constitution in this design.
But Illinois state Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Democrat, told Chris Matthews in an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball Friday that he would keep an open mind and "judge whatever is presented before us objectively."
He said that the allegations against Blagojevich were "disturbing," but added, "I've got to deal with what is strictly presented before me and it's a very delicate process leading into that. I'd admonish my colleagues... that they be very careful as to what they say publicly. We want to treat this process with the highest integrity."
Who becomes governor if Blagojevich is convicted and removed from office?According to the Illinois Constitution, in the event of a vacancy, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn would become governor.