Why Individuals, Cities or States can Petition the US Government

Impeachment is normally initiated by a Member of the US House of Representatives. But any citizen, city, or state could also initiate impeachment by sending a resolution to the House of Representatives. If you can convince your town to pass a resolution then you might be the one to get the ball rolling.

The basic right comes from the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees any citizen, city, or state the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Also, according to the Jefferson Manual, a State Legislature can initiate impeachment through their Representative in the House. Section LIII on Impeachment, section 603 states :

"In the House there are various methods of setting an impeachment in motion: ... by charges transmitted from the legislature of a State (III, 2469) ..."


From Hinds Precedents, IV, 3326

"The Speaker \3\ said that it had been the uniform practice of the House to receive, under the call for petitions, not only petitions but resolutions of legislatures and of primary assemblies of the people."

These rules allow the Speaker of the House to accept petitions from cities, and memorials from states, all across America. As an example, here is a page from the Congressional Record showing petitions and memorials laid on the Clerk's desk on July 19th of 2007. The same clause can also be used to accept petitions from individuals or other groups, but they carry less weight than a petition from a local government.

The (III, 2469) refers to the Hinds Precedents, section 2469. It tells of how in 1903 the Florida legislature passed a bill to impeach a corrupt US District Judge named Charles Swayne. With the power of a joint resolution from his home state behind him, Mr. William B. Lamar, of Florida, claiming the floor for a question of privilege, said:

"Mr. Speaker, I believe that the impeachment of a civil officer by this House is a question of privilege. I have made a joint resolution adopted by the legislature of the State of Florida a part of the resolution which I desire to submit to this House for its adoption. In pursuance of this joint resolution of the legislature of the State which I have the honor in part to represent, I impeach Charles Swayne, judge of the northern district of the State of Florida, of high crimes and misdemeanors;"

The house voted to bypass the Judiciary Committee and ordered the investigation of Judge Swayne.

In 1967, anti-war activists tried to get a resolution to stop the Vietnam War on the ballot. The city tried to stop them arguing it was not the city's business. The court decided Farley v. Healey , 67 Cal.2d 325 in favor of the activists stating:

"As representatives of local communities, board of supervisors and city councils have traditionally made declarations of policy on matters of concern to the community whether or not they had power to effectuate such declarations by binding legislation. Indeed, one of the purposes of local government is to represent its citizens before the Congress, the Legislature, and administrative agencies in matters over which the local government has no power. Even in matters of foreign policy it is not uncommon for local legislative bodies to make their positions known."

Rules for Petitions

Also according to Jefferson's Manual, Section XIX, 389:

"Resolutions of State legislatures and of primary assemblies of the people are received as memorials (IV, 3326, 3327),"

This is done according to Clause 3, Rule XII, Section 819, of the Rules of the House of Representatives:

"Petitions, memorials, and other papers addressed to the House may be presented by the Speaker as well as by a Member (IV, 3312). Petitions from the country at large are presented by the Speaker in the manner prescribed by the rule (III, 2030; IV, 3318; VII, 1025). A Member may present a petition from the people of a State other than his own (IV, 3315, 3316)."

Impeachment resolution from a local body should be sent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The document should be marked with the word "Petition" at the top. It must also bear an authorizing signature. For a state that would be the Secretary of State from that state. Note that the signature must be an original, not a copy or a fax.

The House Speaker will route the petition through the Parliamentarian office to the Clerk. The Clerk must then note in the Congressional Journal that the charges were received. The charges will then be referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

The Judiciary Committee may then investigate the charges, draft Articles of Impeachment and submit them to the floor of the House for a vote. As in the case of Charles Swayne above, a Representative in the House may also call for a vote based on the resolution. The Jefferson Manual LIII, Section 604 states:

"A direct proposition to impeach is a question of high privilege in the House and at once supersedes business otherwise in order under the rules governing the order of business".

Note that in order to have Privilege, the proposition to impeach must be introduced by a Member, or by a House Committee. Read more about "privilege" and how it relates to impeachment.