The impeachment process is seldom used in Alabama politics. Reserving its use for only the most egregious of moral or legal transgressions, the power of impeachment is protected from being diluted to a political tool. But with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley‘s recent admission of impropriety and insistence he will not step down, lawmakers may soon consider using their constitutional tool of impeachment to oust the second-term Republican.
How would it go down?
The Alabama Constitution lays out the reasons justifying an officer of the state’s impeachment in Section 173:
The governor … may be removed from office for willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics to such an extent, in view of the dignity of the office and importance of its duties, as unfits the officer for the discharge of such duties, or for any offense involving moral turpitude while in office, or committed under color thereof, or connected therewith, by the senate sitting as a court of impeachment, under oath or affirmation, on articles or charges preferred by the house of representatives.
Most of those calling for the governor’s resignation or impeachment are doing so on the grounds of the section’s “moral turpitude” clause. Although moral turpitude has no distinct legal definition in Alabama, it is generally defined as “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.”
Should legislative leadership decide to proceed with the process, a majority of the members of the Alabama House of Representatives would have to approve articles of impeachment. They would be delivered to the lieutenant governor in the Alabama Senate.
The impeachment proceedings would take place in the Alabama Senate, to be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court: in this case, Roy Moore.
Legislative leadership, however, has yet to comment on whether or not it will consider such action.
Who would be governor?
Section 127 of the Alabama Constitution clearly lays out a line of succession should the governor be removed from office:
- Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey
- Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh
- Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard
- Attorney General Luther Strange
- State Auditor Jim Zeigler
- Secretary of State John Merrill
- State Treasurer Young Boozer
Has it ever happened before?
In Alabama’s nearly 200-year history, a governor has never been impeached. Gov. Guy Hunt, the first Republican governor in Alabama since Reconstruction, resigned his office upon being convicted of felonious ethics law violations in 1996, but was not impeached.
Where does the legislature go from here?
The Alabama Legislature left early for spring break Wednesday, and will resume the second half of the regular session April 5. During the intervening week and a half legislative leadership will likely consider whether or not to pull the trigger on such an unprecedented action.
During an already tumultuous legislative session, with Speaker Hubbard facing charges of ethics violations himself, it remains to be seen what long-term consequences of the governor’s actions will be.