CHICAGO (jGLi) – The first United States federal judge (John Pickering) impeached and convicted for drunkenness and unlawful rulings was immediately removed from office in 1804. That’s why any thought being entertained by former Philippine Supreme Court Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas to file an appeal of the conviction of his client, former Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, will only be wistful thinking even though if he has a right to appeal.
The apprehension of my province mate from Sorsogon Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero that the appeal could trigger a constitutional crisis is, at best, misplaced. If Mr. Corona will elevate the appeal before the Supreme Court still populated by Mr. Corona’s allies, it will only enrich the pocket of his lawyers, not the jurisprudence.
The appeal to the 20-3 overwhelming but cathartic vote by “angry” senators who convicted Tuesday (May 29) Mr. Corona for culpable violation of the Constitution for not declaring his assets (US$2.4-M and P80-M) in his SALN (statement of assets and liabilities and net worth) will just be a knee-jerk reaction to an impeachment process first devised in 14-century England for accountability of the king’s advisers. This device, which means, “trap,” in Latin, was later written into the U.S. Constitution, which was the basis of the Philippine Constitution.
When Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery to sell the Senate seat of Barack Obama, he was impeached by the Illinois House of Representatives by a 114-1 vote and removed from office by a unanimous vote of the Illinois Senate. He was immediately replaced by his lieutenant governor. Blagojevich, who is now serving his 14-year sentence for corruption after later facing criminal charges, never appealed his impeachment. But he is appealing his criminal conviction.
It would be the first time in Philippine history that the impeachment proceedings would convict a top government official, in this case, the highest official of the Philippine judiciary after several fruitless attempts in applying it to the executive branch.
CORONA LOSES INFLUENCE IN HIS COLLEAGUES
Even if Mr. Corona files an appeal, he can no longer wield influence over his former peers who just watched on national TV and Internet how the House prosecuted their former Big Boss fair and square before the gritty senator-judges, who just used their common sense and their God-given conscience to send a message to everybody that a public office is a public trust. If you don’t want to declare your assets, there is no room for you in public service.
The fact that the impeachment did not galvanize Mr. Corona’s supporters into some kind of mass action that triggered People Power 2 when prosecutors walked out of the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada, following the failure of impeachment presiding chair, Chief Justice Hilario Davide, to stop the walkout, the smart handling of the impeachment proceeding by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who stopped cold the attempt of Mr. Corona to walk out, prevented the situation from getting out of hand.
Mr. Escudero, who was the only Senator to submit his waiver of confidentiality of his bank account to the Ombudsman when he explained his vote to convict, could only sigh that the 44-day trial was “peaceful with no trouble and nobody getting hurt” and only strengthened democracy. And if I may add, it showed the maturity of the political process that eluded and was missed sadly by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada in the Impeachment Trial of his father.
If Mr. Corona is going to file an appeal, he would have the burden to prove that his conviction in what my favorite Sen. Miriam Santiago described as “quasi-political” and “quasi-judicial” political exercise is “justiciable,” which means it can be resolved by the court.
IMPEACHMENT CONVICTION HAS NEVER BEEN OVERTURNED
There have been several attempts in the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the adverse rulings by the U.S. Senate of several members of the U.S. judiciary, who were removed from the bench following their impeachments. But none has so far prospered as impeachment has been considered a “political question,” which means it is beyond the province of the courts.
Under the U.S. landmark decision in Baker v. Carr, the political question doctrine comes into play only when, “[p]rominent on the surface of a[ ] case … is found a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it.”
In the Judge Nixon’s case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Nixon’s argument that the use of the word “try” in the (U.S. Constitution’s) Clause’s first sentence impliedly requires a judicial review. The Court added that “try” lacks sufficient precision to afford any judicially manageable standard of review compelled by older and modern dictionary definitions, and is fortified by the existence of the three very specific requirements that the Clause’s second and third sentences do impose – that the Senate’s Members must be under oath or affirmation, that two-thirds vote is required to convict, and that the Chief Justice (in the Corona’s case, the Senate President) presides when the President (Chief Justice) is tried – the precise nature of which suggests that the Framers did not intend to impose additional limitations on the form of the Senate proceedings.
The history of the Constitutional Convention and contemporary commentary place “impeachment power in the Legislature, with no judicial involvement, even for the limited purpose of judicial review.”
In the Nixon case, which challenged the U.S. Senate’s creation of “Senate Rule XI” as violating the Impeachment Trial Clause, the Supreme Court held his claim is “nonjusticiable.” Rule XI relegated the impeachment fact-finding to a Senate committee.
When President Benigno Aquino travels to London, England and the White House this week, he can thank England for introducing “impeachment” in the political dictionary and the U.S. for including impeachment into the U.S. Constitution. ([email protected])