Impeachments in Texas
Impeachments have historically been reserved for cases in which a public official committed a criminal act. The United States Constitution provides that the President of the United States shall only be removed from office upon "Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." In general, impeachments are a rare occurrence. Only 17 federal officers have been impeached since 1776.
In Texas, two officials have been successfully impeached -- Governor James Ferguson in 1917 and Judge O.P. Carillo in 1975. Ferguson was indicted on charges including embezzlement while Carillo spent three years in jail following his impeachment.
In 2013, the Texas State Legislature began an impeachment trial for Regent Wallace Hall. Legislators have accused Hall of abusing his power and targeting University of Texas, Austin President Bill Powers, while Hall maintains he was acting as a responsible regent investigating situations of clout and accountability problems within the University of Texas system. Some have said Hall is being targeted for uncovering evidence of political favoritism with respect to admissions processes.
- Section 1: The power of impeachment is vested in the Texas House of Representatives.
- Section 2: Impeachment of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Land Commissioner, Comptroller and Judges shall be tried by the State Senate.
- Section 3: No person shall be convicted without 2/3 senators present. Senators shall be on oath during impeachment processes.
- Section 4: Judgment in cases of impeachment shall extend only to removal from office, and disqualification from holding any office of honor, trust or profit in Texas. A party convicted on impeachment shall also be subject to indictment, trial and punishment according to law.
- Section 5: All officers against whom articles of impeachment may be preferred shall be suspended from the exercise of the duties of their office, during period of such impeachment. The Governor may make a provisional appointment to fill the vacancy occasioned by the suspension of an officer until the decision on the impeachment.
- Section 6: This section outlines the ways a District Court judge may be removed from office by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction to hear and determine the causes aforesaid when presented in writing upon the oaths taken before some judge of a court of record of not less than 10 lawyers, practicing in the courts held by such judge, and licensed to practice in the Supreme Court; said presentment to be founded either upon the knowledge of the persons making it or upon the written oaths as to the facts of creditable witnesses. The Supreme Court may issue all needful process and prescribe all needful rules to give effect to this section. Causes of this kind shall have precedence and be tried as soon as practicable.
- Section 7: The Legislature shall provide by law for the trial and removal from office of all officers of this State, the modes for which have not been provided in this Constitution.
- Section 8: The Governor can remove judges for wilful neglect of duty, incompetency, habitual drunkenness, oppression in office, or other reasonable cause which shall not be sufficient ground for impeachment. The Governor will require 2/3 consent from each chamber of the Texas State Legislature. Additionally, the cause or causes for which such removal shall be required, shall be stated at length in such address and entered on the journals of each House; and provided further, that the cause or causes shall be notified to the judge so intended to be removed, and he shall be admitted to a hearing in his own defense before any vote for such address shall pass, and in all such cases, the vote shall be taken by yeas and nays and entered on the journals of each House respectively.
- Section 9: In addition to the other procedures provided by law for removal of public officers, the governor who appoints an officer may remove the officer with the advice and consent of two-thirds of the members of the senate present. If the legislature is not in session when the governor desires to remove an officer, the governor shall call a special session of the senate for consideration of the proposed removal. The session may not exceed two days in duration.
Legislative code for impeachment
Title 6, Chapter 665 of the Texas Government Code addresses the impeachment and removal of public officers by the state house. In order for an official to be impeached, articles of impeachment must be brought by the Texas House of Representatives. If the House adopts articles of impeachment, the Texas State Senate must then sit as the court of impeachment.
If the state legislature is not in regular session during the time of impeachment, a special session can be called specifically to handle impeachments. The Texas Legislative Code governs the process by which the Texas State Legislature can be brought into special session to address an impeachment proceeding.
When the House is not in session, there are three ways that the House may be convened for purposes of impeachment.
- Proclamation of Governor
- Proclamation of the speaker following the submission of a written petition signed by at least 50 members of the House.
- Proclamation signed by a majority of the members of the House. There are 150 members of the Texas State House.
- Proclamation of Governor
- After 10 days have elapsed from article adoption, if the Governor has not acted, then by proclamation of Lieutenant Governor if the Governor has not issued a proclamation
- After 15 days have elapsed from article adoption, if the Governor and Lt. Governor have not acted, then by proclamation of the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate
- After 20 days have elapsed from article adoption, if the Governor, Lt. Governor and President Pro Tempore have not acted, then by proclamation of a signed majority of the members of the Senate. There are 31 members of the Texas State Senate.
Wallace Hall impeachment
- See also: Wallace Hall impeachment trial
An effort was begun in 2013 to investigate the possibility of impeaching University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall. The Texas State Legislature adjourned its regular session on May 27, 2013. There is no regularly scheduled session until 2015. State legislators created a select committee to launch an investigation into possibly impeaching Wallace Hall, an appointed member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents. That committee has been holding a series of meetings in late 2013. The most that the select committee can do would be to recommend to the full state house that articles of impeachment be drafted. If that is the case, then the state house must follow procedures outlined regarding calling a special session specifically for the process of impeachment.
After he was appointed in 2011, Hall began looking into what he believed to be clout scandals within the University of Texas system. Hall investigated the university's forgivable-loans program and admissions policies and preferential treatment to politically-connected individuals. Hall, as an individual citizen, filed FOIA requests with the University system after his inquiries via his role as a Regent were rebuffed. According to his accusers, Hall filed requests of more than 800,000 pages, which some Texas administrators called an unnecessary burden. However, a letter from University chancellor Francisco Cigarroa in February 2014 said that Hall likely requested fewer than 100,000 pages. In addition, Cigarroa wrote: "During testimony before the Select Committee, some early witnesses implied that the U.T. System has not protected the privacy rights of students, staff, and patients. This is simply not true."
An effort was begun in June 2013 to try and impeach Hall from his position as regent. Some legislators are justifying the impeachment on the grounds that Hall did not disclose several lawsuits that he was involved in when he originally completed his Regent background check. Hall updated Governor Rick Perry's office in April 2013 with the full list. No unelected official in Texas has ever been successfully impeached or removed from office. Governor of Texas Rick Perry's spokesperson said the investigations send a "chilling message" to gubernatorial appointees. He added that the investigation was "extraordinary political theater." Texas state legislators have never previously tried to remove an appointed official. Only two elected officials in the history of Texas have ever been successfully impeached.
A January 2014 review by the law firm Hilder & Associates concluded that there was "no credible evidence of a violation of [the state government code] that would warrant a referral for criminal prosecution." The report concluded that Hall had a legitimate reason for having the documents in question. "In light of the fundamental role attorneys play, it would lead to an absurd result were it criminal for an official to provide student records to his or her attorney in the face of litigation, or anticipated litigation, involving these records," Philip Hilder wrote in the report. Hilder submitted the report to the legislative committee. The Board of Regents hired the firm to review whether Hall may have violated any federal privacy laws in his handling of student information. November 2013 testimony prompted committee-member Trey Fischer to request the inquiry. Committee member Dan Flynn said he was not surprised by the findings and was pleased the university counsel reached a conclusion.
History of impeachments
Only two Texas public officials have been impeached in the state's history.
- James Ferguson is the only governor to be impeached and convicted. He was impeached in 1917 and removed from office. Ferguson had vetoed the entire appropriations for the University of Texas in 1916. Ferguson was indicted on nine charges which included misapplication of public funds, embezzlement and the diversion of a special fund.
- State District Judge O.P. Carillo was impeached and removed in 1976 for "schem[ing] to take Duval County taxpayers’ money through phony equipment rentals." Carillo spent three years in prison after being convicted of tax fraud.
- James Thomas Robinson, Texas Land Commissioner from 1909-1929. He was accused of malfeasance and mismanagement -- however, the House later dropped the charges.
- Texas Constitution, "Article 15: Impeachment"
- Texas Government Code, "Impeachment Proceedings and Removal by House"
- Texas Politics, "Removal of Executive Branch Official"
- 1987 Memorandum within the Texas Legislative Council regarding removal of state officers by the state legislature
- Analysis of Constitutional Impeachment Procedures in Texas
- US Senate, "Impeachment: An Overview of Constitutional Provisions, Procedure, and Practice" December 9, 2010
- Texas Politics, "The Executive Branch," accessed November 25, 2013
- Washington Post ,"" Initial White House Rebuttal to Starr Report," accessed November 26, 2013
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- Port Aransas South Jetty, "Impeachment in Texas history," August 23, 2007
- Texas Tribune, "Perry Blasts Impeachment Probe of Wallace Hall," October 30, 2013
- Texas Legislative Council, "Processes for removal of state officers by the legislature," June 18, 1987
- American Spectator, "Transparency for Thee," October 25, 2013
- Daily Texas Online, "Facing impeachment, Regent Wallace Hall defends actions in debate with Sen. Kirk Watson," September 28, 2013
- Daily Texas Online, "Former UT System vice chancellor alleges Regent Wallace Hall’s ‘clear intent to get rid of Bill Powers’," October 24, 2013
- Dallas Morning News, "UT regent sought 800,000 documents, official says in impeachment hearing," October 22, 2013
- Watchdog, "‘Witch hunt’ fallout: Speaker calls for narrower public records law," February 5, 2014
- Texas Tribune, "UT System Responds to Transparency Committee Directives," February 3, 2014
- Texas Tribune, "Cigarroa letter to the Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations," February 1, 2014
- Texas Tribune, "UT Regent Wallace Hall Updates Lawsuit Disclosures," April 30, 2013
- Real Clear Policy, "The Campaign Against Wallace Hall," August 15, 2013
- News-Journal, "University of Texas regent not worried by impeachment inquiry," September 9, 2013
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- Texas Tribune, "Perry Blasts Impeachment Probe of Wallace Hall," October 30, 2013
- Texas Public Radio, "UT Regent Wallace Hall Will Testify In Impeachment Hearing," November 13, 2013
- Dallas Morning News, "UT Regent Hall didn't commit crime, university attorney concludes,"January 16, 2014
- Watchdog, "UT Report: Charge against Hall is legally 'absurd'" January 14, 2014
- Texas Tribune, "Report: Regent Didn't Violate Student Privacy Laws," January 15, 2014
- Texas Tribune Uploads, "Hilder & Associates Report," January 13, 2014
- Texas Politics, "The Executive Branch: Removal" accessed October 31, 2013
- Texas Historical Association, "James Ferguson," accessed November 4, 2013
- Daily Texas Online, "The Daily Texan editorial board's endorsements for the Tuesday, Nov. 5 election," November 3, 2013
- Baylor University, "O.P. Carrilo," accessed November 4, 2013
- Texas Land Commissioner, "History," accessed November 4, 2013