According to a BBCnews article:

Congress could break any deadlock that crops up between the president and the judiciary by creating a law that overturns his decision - or even impeaching a president or judge.

Is it true that impeachment is a constitutional option to break any deadlock that crops up, as the BBC describes?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Sklivvz
    Feb 6, 2017 at 20:25
  • @DVK I'd rather have this answered from a constitutional law point of view
    – DavePhD
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:01
  • @DVK from the point of view of whether or not impeaching a judge for his decision falls under the constitutional grounds for impeachment: "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors".
    – DavePhD
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:07
  • @DavePhD - ah OK. I would suggest editing in that it's specifically impeachment of judges that you are more interested in, which is a slightly different issue though I suspect with identical answer.
    – user0306
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:14

2 Answers 2


Article II of the Constitution does say that "The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors". So it is true that a president or a federal judge could be impeached and removed from office, and it has happened to some extent 19 times – in 8 cases it went all the way to removal (as opposed to acquittal or resignation). However, this would not be a very effective way to avert a "crisis". Any judicial ruling is subject to appeal by a higher court, until you get to the Supreme Court. Moreover, impeaching a lower judge does not erase his or her rulings. So ultimately, a matter will be decided by SCOTUS.

In anticipation of such a ruling, Congress might decide to get rid of some Supreme Court justice who they think might stand in the way. That was attempted with Samuel Chase, who was acquitted. Such a decision is not subject to judicial review (Nixon v. United States 506 U.S. 224). However, SCOTUS can also overturn that decision though that would be very unusual. It would also be very unusual for Congress to impeach a Supreme Court justice for having a position that they disagree with.

At any rate, there is no such thing as a "deadlock" between branches of government. When the court rules, that is the end of the matter from a legal perspective. It is, in fact, entirely possible that a general will rule that the court or the president (or both) are wrong and will declare what the law now is, but that takes us out of the realm of legal discussions.

  • 1
    Andrew Jackson didn't obey the court. scottsconstitutionalhistoryblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/…
    – DavePhD
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:18
  • Lots of people don't obey the court: they are called "criminals"
    – Dale M
    Feb 8, 2017 at 0:25
  • @DaleM: In the case of Andrew Jackson, the court lost. I will not argue the merits of the case here; but the court's power was found by the people to be limited and its ruling tossed. There was probably enough votes to cast the judges from the court one by one if need be.
    – Joshua
    Aug 22, 2017 at 19:57

This seems possibly inaccurate in the first part (passing a law) but accurate in the second (impeachment):

  1. If the law that is passed violates Executive powers, it can be found unconstitutional, regardless of the merits of the original issue that caused the "deadlock" (I'll leave aside what that even means, but I agree with the other answer that there's no really such a thing as a "deadlock" between Executive and Judicial branch, by definition).

    In other words, Congress can pass any law it wants, but it must pass constitutional muster like any other law.

    However, if the law is constitutional, then indeed, it trumps an Executive order. Pun not intended but too ironic to edit out.

  2. Re: Impeachment.

    This has been discussed in detail on Politics.SE (e.g. here or here), but the executive summary is that, in reality, Congress can decide to impeach a President basically for any damn thing they want to, and the only thing that would stop them isn't legal, but political, limits - if they impeach for something that the public strongly disagrees with (Cough I did not have sexual relations cough), the representatives will risk voter backlash and losing the most important goal in their life - getting re-elected.

    Quoting from that answer:

    An impeachable offense is basically whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history. - Gerald Ford

    Practically, as discussed in linked answers, SCOTUS indicated that they are hands off on how and why Congress does impeachments.

  • 1
    Technically Congress can impeach a president for breaking the speed limit when Air Force 1 touches down and goes over 55 mph on the taxiway. Obviously, it would be a political move and we would consider it ridiculous, but it could theoretically happen with a group of deranged congress critters. Feb 6, 2017 at 21:38
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    @sabbahillel technically the president is not operating AF1, so not liable for its improper operation. Furthermore, the highway speed limit is not in force on airport runways or taxiways. They might as well impeach him for growing daisies in the rose garden or for keeping elephants in the oval office.
    – phoog
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:29
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    @phoog That is one of the possibilities. It was meant as an over the top sarcasm. Of course he is not liable, but it was meant to be an even more ridiculous statement than arresting the owner of a limo because the chauffer speeds. Feb 6, 2017 at 23:26

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