If it were a court case, it would be styled: “Obnoxious Self-Serving Legislator vs. Obnoxious Self-Serving Judge.” And the outcome will be stalemate, for Judge McRae will not, repeat not, be impeached on these current charges.
State Sen. Mike Gunn’s purple political prose for the sake of the television cameras aside, impeachment proceedings against Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae have indeed not begun in the Mississippi Legislature.
Gunn, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by retiring Congressman Sonny Montgomery, has milked his broadside against McRae for all it’s worth but in fact, the resolutions he offered in the State Senate on Monday calling for the ouster of McRae accomplish nothing in terms of getting the constitutional ball rolling toward the judge’s impeachment.
Why? Because Gunn based his resolution on Section 53 of the Mississippi Constitution, which reads: “For reasonable cause, which shall not be sufficient ground of impeachment, the governor shall, on the joint address of two-thirds of each branch of the legislature, remove from office the judges of the Supreme and inferior courts; but the cause or causes of removal shall be spread on the journal, and the party charged be notified of same, and have an opportunity to be heard by himself or counsel, or both, before the vote is finally taken and decided.”
In other words, Section 53 doesn’t initiate impeachment proceedings it merely empowers the governor to remove a judge from office after both the House and the Senate have voted by two-thirds majority to sanction the governor’s attempt to remove a judge from office.
Section 49 of the Mississippi Constitution addresses the legislative power of impeachment as follows: “The house of representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment; but two-thirds of all the members present must concur therein. All impeachments shall be tried by the senate, and, when sitting for that purpose, the senators shall be sworn to do justice to law and the evidence.”
Section 50 of the Mississippi Constitution addresses impeachment specifically: “The governor and all other civil officers of this state, shall be liable to impeachment for treason, bribery, or any other high crime or misdemeanor in office.”
The bottom line is that Gunn knows full well that a state senator and the state Senate as a whole, for that matter is not empowered by the Mississippi Constitution to initiate impeachment proceedings against any state official.
Only the Mississippi House of Representatives has that power. Gunn can offer resolutions, call press conferences, make speeches, issue statements and perform the rest of his act until the cows come home and McRae will be no closer to impeachment than he was a year ago.
Gunn offered two versions of the resolution one which seeks to have the resolution assigned to the Joint Committee to Investigate State Offices, which would ostensibly upon passage force a vote on the matter in both houses. Sources at the State Capitol confirm, however, that Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is more likely to assign the resolution to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it is expected to die in committee.
A top House leader said this week that there is “no sentiment” in the House to pursue impeachment proceedings against McRae. The source, speaking on promise of anonymity, said: “Most people in the House think Judge McRae acted atrociously and arrogantly, but there’s no historical precedent for removing a judge from office over a misdemeanor first offense DUI. It’s just not going to happen. The feeling here is that the matter is where it ought to be, with Judge McRae facing censure from his peers in the state’s legal profession.”
Clearly, Gunn’s so-called “impeachment” initiative is going nowhere in the Legislature.
What is accomplished, of course, is that in the heat of the congressional campaign, Gunn avails himself of media coverage which shows him offering statements like this: “Tragically, Justice McRae has perverted the legal process for his own sake and his lack of public contrition since his court appearance shows an unrepentant heart for his misdeed.”
Essentially, Gunn’s legal argument is that Judge McRae should be impeached for getting a first offense DUI and acting like a jackass afterwards. He further claims that his zeal to go after Gunn is fueled by a tragedy involving a DUI driver that afflicted members of his extended family.
The first claim is ludicrous for if a public official acting like an idiot was a crime, Gunn might find himself in peril of impeachment (remember Gunn’s $9,500 in payments from a dummy corporation for helping former Klansman and Neo-Nazi David Duke raise political funds?). Gunn never exhibited a repentant heart on that debacle. No apologies to the VFW or the American Legion or the other old soldiers who fought the real Nazis. He just said he was making a living, which is what McRae said when he asked for the hardship status to get his license back after the DUI.
That second claim is one that no one in the press or the Legislature has a right to challenge for the tragedy of the Gunn family loss to a DUI driver was real.
But the timing of Gunn’s outrage over McRae’s behavior is more than suspect. Where was Mike Gunn for the year that McRae’s case languished in the courts? Where was Gunn when other Mississippi elected officials were handed DUIs?
Gunn’s political grandstanding on the McRae case comes at the same time that Gunn is seeking headlines by goading U.S. Judge Neal Biggers to “come down and enforce” the Ayers higher education decision and wondering aloud if the Legislature should tell another federal judge “to stick it in his ear” on efforts to resolve the 20-year legal fight over the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files.
Those are great campaign soundbytes. Not much in the way of leadership, but great campaign soundbytes.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist and editor of the Scott County Times in Forest.