Sometime in the next week or two, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will convene in the Senate. When it does, Chief Justice John Roberts will preside.
There has been a good deal written about Roberts’ role, some of it intimating – or at least hoping – that Roberts could wrench control from the politicians who make up the Senate and transform the proceeding into a trial of the conventional judicial sort, with both sides able to compel the appearance of live witnesses and the production of documents and to inquire into any matter logically relevant to the charges against the president.
For better or worse, neither the Constitution, the rules of the Senate, historical precedent nor the personal predilections of Roberts himself make this the least bit likely. Instead, Roberts is most likely to serve as a dignified figurehead in an affair entirely dominated by the Republican senatorial caucus. Here’s why.
The Constitution specifies only four points about the Senate impeachment trial of a president: (1) The Senate “shall have the sole power to try all impeachments”; (2) when sitting as a court of impeachment, senators “shall be on oath or affirmation”; (3) conviction of any accused officer requires “concurrence of two thirds of the members present”; and (4) when the president is the accused, “the Chief Justice shall preside.”