I know that this was essentially already asked here, but the responses to that question only seem to say "You can't be impeached after leaving office," and we now know that that is apparently not true.

So if Trump's impeachment continues after leaving office, why couldn't Nixon's? I understand that Nixon was pardoned, but my understanding is that the pardon shuts down criminal prosecutions (but not impeachment).

I am not expressing any political opinion about the current impeachment - I'm just asking why it can continue if Nixon's couldn't.

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    There's a major political difference between Trump and Nixon. Basically nobody supported Nixon after Watergate. Trump still has significant Republican support, so there is a real chance he could run and win again.
    – Ryan_L
    Feb 6, 2021 at 0:03
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    Trump was impeached while he was still in office.
    – Damila
    Feb 6, 2021 at 3:20
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    You are asking why Nixon couldn't be impeached, but you have not actually shown any evidence that Nixon couldn't be impeached. We know that he wasn't, but do we actually know that he couldn't? Feb 6, 2021 at 21:36

2 Answers 2


First of all, there is a distinction between being impeached and being convicted. Trump was impeached when the House voted to adopt an Article of Impeachment. That happened while he was still in office. He will not be convicted until the Senate votes to convict him by a 2/3rds vote, if it ever does.

In the case of Nixon, the House had not yet voted to adopt Articles of Impeachment when he resigned. They had been introduced and debated, but not yet finally approved.

Moreover, we don't know what would have happened if the House had proceeded to pass such articles after Nixon had resigned. The House of that time did not choose to proceed. There was no court ruling saying that they could not do so.

There are some precedents saying that the Senate can proceed with a trial after an official resigns or is expelled after impeachment. None of these are at all recent, none are clear cut, none involved an official whose term had ended, none involved a President, and none that I am aware of led to a conviction. And this issue has never been tested in a Federal court.

Specifically, there is the case of William Belknap. Belknap was Secretary of War under US President Grant. He was accused of improperly profiting from military contracts. The House started impeachment proceedings. Grant interviewed Belknap, who confessed to Grant and resigned on the spot. The house none the less pass five articles of impeachment after Belknap resigned. When the Senate took up the case, there was a motion to dismiss on the ground that the Senate did not have jurisdiction because of Belknap's resignation. By a vote of 37–29 the Senate held that it had jurisdiction and that a trial should proceed. The vote to convict Belknap was 35 for conviction, 25 against it. This was five votes short of the required 2/3rds to convict. Most of the Senators voting against conviction were on record as doing so because they did not agree that the Senate had jurisdiction. Thus a majority vote of the Senate held in that case that such a trial was proper, but less than 2/3rds. (Most also indicted that they thought the charges true.)

There was also the case of William Blount. Blount, a Senator, was impeached by the House in 1798. (In fact this was the first impeachment ever under the US Constitution.) The Senate voted to expel him. When the articles of impeachment came up in 1799, the Senate voted to dismiss the impeachment, on the ground that the impeachment process did not extend to members of the Senate, but not on the grounds that the expulsion rendered the proceedings moot.

Should Trump be convicted by the Senate (which now seems unlikely) he might bring a court case claiming that such a conviction was unconstitutional. There is no knowing how a court would handle such a case. And if Trump is not convicted, no such case will be brought this time, either.

This Washington Post opinion piece by two Constitutional scholars claims that such a trial would be constitutionally proper. It also claims that it would not have been proper had the vote to adopt articles of impeachment occurred after Trump had left office. Others have taken different positions. Whether a Senate trial of an impeachment is constitutional after the person impeached has left office is a hotly debated question at the moment. There has never been a court ruling on the point, and neither of the precedents is of a situation quite matching the current impeachment of Trump.

No court has ruled on the matter. The Senate did not vote for a motion to dismiss the impeachment on those grounds, although if every senator who voted for the motion voted to acquit, Trump would not be convicted.

From the comments

I wish that any downvoters would leave a comment indicting what thy think is wring with this answer. In the absence of a comment, I cannot improve the answer, others cannot use the reasons to write better answers, and readers have no idea why someone objects to the answer. Such a downvote seems pointless.

I have updated this answer with a discussion of the Blount and Belknap precedents. In neither case did the Senate actually vote to dismiss the articles because the accused was no longer in office, although that seems to be a major reason why 25 senators voted against convicting Belknap.


Ignoring that the fallacy that it is not true (It's never sucessfully happened, thus allowing the Constitutional question to be properly addressed in an appellent manner. It's not true, but it's not false yet. The closest we got resulted in an aquittale because the jurists felt they had no jurisdiction), the goal of the impending impeachement of Nixon was to remove him from office first and for most. Nixon was inelligble from seeking re-election and any other federal office he could have held would not have been more prestigious and it was highly unlikely he could get voted into a lesser office or appointed.

Trump on the other hand may still run for a second non-consecutive term for President (if he won his second term, he'd be the second president to achieve this distinction and would be both the 45th and 47th President of the United States). Trump is also likely not to face any punishment for any alleged crime related to the charges of impeachment as there is a high burden of proof in a criminal court which the prosectution would have to clear to convict. Plus the appeleant process that could be factored in as well. Impeachment does not have major appeleant levels. Generally the lowest court and highest court of Impeachment are the Senate exclusively, though SCOTUS may hear appeals and has in the past at least once (Nixon v. United States) but decided that the legal questions posed by the appeal were not violations of Congress's rights in impeachment... and no one agreed if SCOTUS could or could not hear further impeachment related appeals or not... so that question is open (Note: Nixon v. United States did not involve President Richard Nixon but an impeached Federal Judge Nixon. It should not be confused with United States v. Nixon, which did concern the President and the decision did play a major part in the Watergate Scandle's conclusion.).

Suffice to say, with Nixon deciding to resign to avoid an Impeachment trial (that was certain to convict) and his pardon by President Ford, the fact that he was in his second term already, and now the fact that he's been dead since 1994, continuing the Impeachement of Nixon would serve no purpose other than to waste the tax payers money and piss off alot of Americans who would think Congress has more important matters to attend too.

And for the record, I think there are alot of legal issues to the current impeachment of President Trump that I hope render the final outcome in his favor (And I'm not agreeing with any position on "Is What Trump Did Illegal?" in that statement. I would defend any former president of any political party so impeached in such a fashion to block a possible future run. I do not believe the impeachment process is a tool that was ever designed to work this way.). For the sake of understanding that there are a group of people who disagree with me on my stance on the Constitutional Merits, I will defend that proceeding with Nixon's impeachment after his resignation would not lead to any legal difference in Nixon's status as elligible for office. No president has ever returned to the legislature post term, and while one president became a SCOTUS justice post term (and enjoyed it) in both cases of offices Nixon could hold, both have means for his swift removal (Both Houses of Congress can expell members on their own vote, which requires far fewer people to make the decision than Impeachment and SCOTUS Justices may be impeached... thus a hypothetical Justice Nixon would be the basis for furthering impeachment proceedings against him for Watergate, and that's not even factoring that Justice Nixon would have to clear a Senate comittee vetting him... historically, Reagan couldn't get Robert Bork on SCOTUS cause he was too close to Nixon's shame (Bork was named Acting Attorney General following the "Saturday Night Massacre" where both the AG and Deputy AG resigned when Nixon asked them to fire special prosecutor Cox... Bork did fire Cox, which lead to Congress initiating impeachment proceedings against Nixon and was the first in the scandle that a plurality of Americans favored Nixon's impeachment (44% of Americans in support, 43% opposed, 13% undecided... and remember this was a President who won re-election with 49 of the 51 electoral delegations. Suffice to say Bork couldn't get the seat and he wasn't guilty of any crime!).

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    "No president has ever returned to the legislature post term" This is not correct. John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Represenatives after his term as President was over. He served in the house from 1830 to 1848, wining nine elections, and was arguably more influential there than as President. Andrew Johnson served inn the senate 1869–1875. I do not think any former US president has been elected to Congress since. Feb 5, 2021 at 19:04
  • @DavidSiegel indeed! in fact, the issue was featured in a somewhat-modern (1997) high-budget movie "Amistad."
    – grovkin
    Feb 5, 2021 at 19:37
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    This answer is long on rambling and ranting, but very short on law.
    – bdb484
    Feb 5, 2021 at 19:51

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