Impeachment is a political proceeding, not a court one. Typically in a U.S. legislative body, it is the House of Representatives that impeaches an officeholder, charging him or her with wrongdoing. The Senate then conducts a trial, and a guilty verdict results in ejection from office. Sometimes that includes a stipulation that prevents future qualification to hold office.
In Texas, an impeachment charge from the House results in immediate suspension from office, as was the case for Paxton. The Senate deliberated articles of impeachment to determine whether Paxton would be permanently removed. He was accused of trying to protect an Austin real estate developer who was indicted in June on federal charges of making false statements to banks. Acquittal means Paxton returns to office.
Nonetheless, impeachment remains a rarely used means of removing someone from office for serious legal or ethical misconduct and has played a significant role in U.S. history.
Some notable cases:
Three U.S. presidents have been impeached, one twice, but all were acquitted by the Senate:
— Democrat Andrew Johnson, who had been Republican Abraham Lincoln’s vice president, was targeted for impeachment by Radical Republicans in 1868 for 11 high crimes and misdemeanors, including replacing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton while Congress was not in session.
— Democrat Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power, notably denying a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky in a lawsuit filed by Paula Jones.
— Republican Donald Trump was impeached in 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in seeking Ukranian authorities’ intervention to influence the 2020 presidential election. He was impeached in 2021 for incitement of insurrection in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Trump is the only U.S. president to be impeached twice.
Among 15 state governors who have been impeached, eight have been removed from office. They include Republican Gov. Evan Mecham of Arizona for financial crimes in 1988, the first gubernatorial impeachment in 60 years.
— Republican Gov. William Holden of North Carolina was impeached, convicted and removed from office in 1871 for illegally using military force when he reacted to white supremacists’ violence by declaring martial law and having state troops arrest 100 Ku Klux Klansmen. The state Senate voted in 2011 to pardon him, but the House failed to concur.
— Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was impeached and removed from office in 2009 for misdeeds including attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama.
STATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL
Paxton has company as an impeached state attorney general.
— South Dakota Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was impeached and convicted in 2022 for his involvement in a 2020 crash in which the car he was driving hit a pedestrian. The impeachment charges accused him of committing a crime that led to a death and of misleading investigators.
— In Kansas, Republican Attorney General Roland Boyton was impeached with Auditor William French for their suspected involvement in a 1933 scandal in which the well-connected son of an influential banker, given access to the state vault, stole bonds and forged them. Boyton and French were acquitted.
Before Paxton, Texas had not held an impeachment trial since the 1970s, which ended in the conviction of a state judge.
Other impeached judges in the U.S. have included:
— U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings was acquitted of a criminal charge of conspiracy to solicit a bribe in 1983, but he was impeached and convicted by the Senate in 1989. He was not barred from holding public office, however, and he was elected as a Democrat to a congressional seat from Florida from 1993 until his death in 2021.
— District Judge Charles L. Crum of Montana, whose strict adherence to constitutional principles and voicing of nonconformist views during World War I were perceived as pro-German and anti-patriotic, was impeached and removed from office in 1918. In 1991, the Montana Senate approved a resolution exonerating him.
AP researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York and AP statehouse correspondents from across the U.S. contributed.