CHICAGO – While Philippine Senate President and Concurrent Chief Senator-Judge Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate-Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago, a legal heavyweight, had observed that there are differences between the Philippine impeachment trial and that of the United States, I note that there are also similarities.
Both the Philippines and the US Constitutions have provisions stating that, “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office (US version adds ‘of honor, trust or profit’), but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution trial and punishment (US version has “indictment, trial, judgment and punishment), according to law.”
Due to this similarity, Chief Justice Renato Corona could heave a sigh of relief in the event he is going to be convicted by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.
He could learn a lesson or two from the experience of incumbent US Rep. Alcee Lamar Hastings (Dem., Fla.), who was removed by the US Senate from his post as federal judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
This came after he was impeached by the House of Representatives by a near-unanimous vote of 413-3 for bribery and perjury.
Hastings was convicted in 1989 by the US Senate, becoming the sixth federal judge in the history of the United States to be removed from office by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court. The US Senate had the option to forbid Hastings from seeking federal office again but it did not take the option.
Later, Hastings tried to stage a comeback, running for secretary of State of Florida and campaigning on a platform of legalizing casinos. In a three-way Democratic primary, he placed second with 313,758 votes or 33 percent behind newspaper columnist Jim Minter who had 357,340 votes (38 percent) and ahead of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon John Paul Rogers, who garnered 275,370 votes (29 percent).
In the runoff which saw a large decrease in turnout, Hastings lost to Minter with the later getting 300,022 votes and the former tallying 146,375 votes.
But Hastings ran again and won a US House of Representative seat in 1992, representing the people of Florida’s 23rd district.
It was recalled that in 1981, then Judge Hastings was charged with accepting a $150,000 bribe in exchange for a lenient sentence and a return of seized assets for 21 counts of racketeering by Frank and Thomas Romano and of perjury in his testimony about the case. He was acquitted by a jury after his alleged co-conspirator, William Borders, refused to testify.
In 1988, the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives took up the case, and Hastings was impeached for bribery and perjury by a near-unanimous vote of 413-3. He was convicted in 1989 by the US Senate, becoming the sixth federal judge in the history of the United States to be removed from office by the Senate. The vote on the first article was 69 for and 26 opposed, providing two votes more than the two-thirds of those present.
The first article accused Hastings of conspiracy. Conviction in any article of the impeachment complaint was enough to remove the judge from office. The Senate vote cut across party lines, with Senator Patrick J. Leahy (Dem., Vermont), voting to convict his fellow party member and Senator Arlen Specter (Rep., Pennsylvania), voting to acquit.
Later, Hastings filed a suit in federal court, claiming that the impeachment trial was invalid because he was tried by a Senate committee, not the full Senate, and as a result he was acquitted in a criminal trial. Judge Stanley Sporkin ruled in favor of Hastings, remanding the case back to the Senate, but stayed his ruling pending the outcome of an appeal filed with the Supreme Court in a similar case – that of Judge Walter Nixon, who had also been impeached and removed.
Sporkin found some “crucial distinctions” between Nixon’s case and Hastings’s. Nixon had been convicted criminally, while Hastings was not found guilty by two-thirds of the Senate committee that conducted the impeachment trial against him. He added that Hastings had a right to trial by the full Senate.
Later, however, the Supreme Court ruled in Nixon v. United States that federal courts have no jurisdiction over Senate impeachment matters. As a result, Sporkin’s ruling was vacated and the conviction and removal of Hastings were upheld.
Corona could duplicate Hastings’s feat in the Philippines. If the Senate votes to convict him in one of the seven articles of impeachment but does not prohibit him from seeking any public office, Corona could do a Hastings by running in the 2013 senatorial elections. If he tops the 2013 senatorial elections, sky would be the limit for him. He could even become the opposition standard bearer in 2016 and follow the footsteps of William Howard Taft.
Taft was governor-general of the Philippines from 1900 to 1904. He was appointed Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court after he became 27th US president. Taft, unlike Corona, was never impeached. But who knows what’s in store for Corona in the future.