Vermont Constitution and Impeachment

Chapter II, Sec. 14 of the Vermont Constitution gives the House of Representatives the power to impeach "state criminals." Chapter II, Section 57 states that the House can order impeachments by a two-thirds vote of its members. Section 58 states that "[e]very officer of State, whether judicial or executive, shall be liable to be impeached" and that the "Senate shall have the sole power of trying and deciding upon all impeachments." A vote to convict requires two-thirds of the Senate members present.

Section 58 goes on to state that "[j]udgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office and disqualification to hold or enjoy any office of honor, or profit, or trust, under this State. But the person convicted shall, nevertheless, be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to law."

The apparent conflict between the broad reach of impeachment ("every officer of the State") and the following qualifying clause ("whether judicial or executive") may be understood through the General Assembly's constitutional authority to "expel members, but not for causes known to their constituents antecedent to their election." (Chapter II, Section 14). Expulsion of legislators, though a separate process, has occasionally been referred to as impeachment.

Over time the Constitution has prescribed different impeachment procedures. The 1777 Vermont Constitution gave impeachment powers to the Council of Censors and the General Assembly, then a single body House of Representatives (see Chapter II, Section VIII, 1777 Constitution). The Council of Censors was a body of thirteen men, elected to one year terms, every seven years with authority, among others, to order impeachments (see Chapter II, Section XLIV, 1777 Constitution; Gillies and Sanford, eds. Records of the Council of Censors of the State of Vermont).

Section XX required that all impeachments be "before the Governor or Lieutenant Governor and Council, who shall hear and determine the same." The Council was a twelve-member body that, along with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, constituted the supreme executive of the State.

If the Governor and Council sat as judges to hear and determine impeachments they could take "to their assistance, for advice only, the judges of the supreme court." (Section XVIII).

Under the 1786 Constitution Section VIII became Section IX; Section XX became Section XXI and the phrase "and may award costs" was added after "determine the same;" and Section XLIV became Section XL.

The 1793 Constitution did not change any of the impeachment language and the impeachment sections were now found in Chapter II as Section 9th, Section 11th, and Section 43rd.

In 1836 the Executive Council was abolished and the newly created Senate was given authority for trying and deciding impeachments. In 1870 the Council of Censors was abolished.

The relationship between the Council of Censors' and General Assembly's authorities to order impeachments needs study. It appears, however, that the Censor's authority was limited. In 1799 the Council ordered the impeachments of three county sheriffs and sent its orders to the General Assembly for prosecution before the Governor and Council. The General Assembly, however, dismissed the orders.

Though not called impeachment, articles in Chapter I of the 1777 and 1786 Constitutions enumerated the right to "reduce public officers to a private station." Chapter I, Article VII of the 1777 Constitution reads: "That those who are employed in the legislative and executive business of the State, may be restrained from oppression, the people have a right, at such periods as they may think proper, to reduce their public officers to a private station, and to supply the vacancies, by certain and regular elections." In 1786, following court riots in Rutland and Windsor counties, this article, now Article VIII, was tempered to the people have a right "by their legal representatives, to enact laws for reducing their public officers to a private station and for supplying the vacancies in a constitutional manner..." The entire article was deleted from the 1793 Constitution.

This page was last updated: 2015-03-04