The new Program for Public Discourse brought talk of impeachment from D.C. to Chapel Hill with an event to provide the public with historical and legal background information on the impeachment process.
The event, “Impeachment: Then and Now,” took place on Tuesday and consisted of a discussion about impeachment proceedings.
Interim Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Terry Rhodes started the forum by explaining the new program that sponsored this event.
“Tonight’s discussion is part of the college’s new Program for Public Discourse," Rhodes said. "This is the second event of the semester offered by this new program. The program is designed to help our students build their capacity for conversation on difficult topics, on reason to debate and on civil engagement.”
The dean of UNC's law school, Martin Brinkley, moderated a discussion between two speakers: UNC law professor and CNN’s principal legal analyst for impeachment, Michael Gerhardt, and and William Leuchtenburg, a presidential historian and UNC professor emeritus.
Gerhardt and Leuchtenburg discussed a variety of impeachment-related topics, including the first known case with Andrew Johnson in 1868 and the common misconception that impeachment is the removal of a president from office.
"I find in talking to my very well-read friends and neighbors in Chapel Hill, that a great many think that impeach means remove from office," Leuchtenburg said. "… It doesn’t mean that. It’s the first step in what could be the removal."
At the end of the hour and a half, the audience was invited to ask questions. Most questions had to do with the current impeachment inquiry. One audience member asked, “In the upcoming trial in the Senate, will the Democrats have any rights, can they call witnesses, can they present their case or will they be railroaded?”
Gerhardt said that in the Senate, this will depend on what its leaders want to do — meaning that it will likely be up to the majority.
"One possibility is that the senate leaders turn around and say, ‘We think it was a partisan sham in the house so to correct that we’re now going to exclude the Democrats like the Republicans were excluded in the House,’” he said.
Gerhardt promptly left the event to catch a flight to Washington D.C. because he had been called to testify Wednesday on the constitutional foundations for impeachment.
Gerhardt also testified on the Clinton impeachment inquiry. Political science student Jack Lafrankie came to the event because he knew about Gerhardt's roles in these proceedings.
“I wanted a little preview of what Gerhardt was going to say tomorrow and I follow everything that is going on,” Lafrankie said. “I’m a Republican and I agree with almost nothing that was said in there, but I like to come to whatever UNC offers, especially when they have distinguished people speaking.”
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