A Conversation on Impeachment

On the 9th of January, the St. Bernard’s Speakers Bureau presented “A Conversation on Impeachment” with St. B’s parent Philip Bobbitt and Old Boy Benno Schmidt ’55.  Over one hundred people filled the small gym to hear these two constitutional law experts discuss a topic that is on everyone’s minds.
Mr. Bobbitt, Professor of Federal Jurisprudence at Columbia Law School, is one of the nation’s foremost scholars on constitutional law and co-author of Impeachment: A Handbook.  Mr. Schmidt ’55, former President of Yale University and former Dean of Columbia Law School, is a noted scholar of the First Amendment and the history of the United States Supreme Court. 

Mr. Schmidt began the evening by reading the impeachment language straight from the Constitution.  The final section of Article II states that the President shall be removed from office if convicted of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  This last phrase was deliberately left somewhat vague.  In addition, Mr. Bobbitt and Mr. Schmidt both agreed that people interpreted the concept of “bribery” in different ways.  Mr. Bobbitt remarked that the text is meant to encompass acts that undermine the vitality and legitimacy of the state and abuse the public trust or demonstrate unfitness of office.

The pair then went on to discuss the mechanics of a trial in the Senate, whose members are meant to be impartial jurors, as explicitly stated in the Constitution.  “When votes break along sharp party lines, something is amiss,” according to Mr. Bobbitt.  Past presidential impeachments were reviewed and both men worry about what type of precedent is being set by the handling of our current President’s impeachment.

Questions from the audience led the rest of the evening’s discussion.  This was certainly an engaged group, and the quality of the questions, including two from our eighth graders, reflected that.  Last night represented one of the many special characteristics of the St. Bernard’s community: teachers, students, Old Boys, and parents (past and present) all coming together for an intellectual and respectful exchange of ideas, the “contact of mind upon mind” as our founders put it.

We thank Mr. Bobbitt and Mr. Schmidt for being so generous with their time and knowledge.  We are privileged to have such learned scholars in our community for our boys to look up to.

To conclude the evening, Mr. Bobbitt noted that while we all might disagree at times, there is one thing we can all agree on and that is how lucky St. Bernard’s is to have the unfaltering leadership of Mr. Johnson for so many years.  The crowd gave a rousing applause in wholehearted approval.