History of us District Judges Removed from Office by Impeachment

In our country’s over-230-year history, there have been only seven U.S. District Judges removed from office by impeachment.  These judges preside in United States district courts, which are our federal trial courts.   Currently there are 94 federal judicial districts, at least one in each state, plus for the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and our three territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The judges for these courts number 678 as of 2010. The President with the advice and consent of the senate appoints district judges, and their terms are for life. Even after retirement, a district judge continues to draw full salary (currently over $170,000 per year).  District Judges cannot be removed from office, except by impeachment. Even committing a crime or being sent to prison will not automatically remove a district judge from office.

Judges considered to have violated the standards of “good behavior” are brought to trial (impeached) by the House of Representatives and placed on trial in the Senate. The House needs only a majority vote to bring Articles of Impeachment, but the Senate must raise a two-thirds majority to remove a district judge from office.

Here is a brief chronology of District Judges removed from office:

1803 – John Pickering (District of New Hampshire) – First federal official to have been removed from office.  Impeached on grounds of drunkenness and unlawful rulings, he was removed by the Senate on a vote of 19 to 7.

1862 – West Hughes Humphreys (District of Tennessee). Judge Humphreys was a southern secessionist and became a Confederate district judge, but failed to resign his appointment to the U.S. District Court. He was impeached by Congress on grounds that he publicly called for secession and gave aid to the Confederate armed rebellion.  The Senate voted unanimously to remove Judge Humphreys from office and disqualified him from further federal office.

1936 – Halsted L. Ritter (Southern District of Florida).  His seven articles of impeachment included shady dealings in embezzling legal fees, favoritism in hearing bankruptcy cases, practicing law while a judge and tax evasion. The Senate convicted Judge Ritter by a vote of 56 to 28. Ritter was not, however, disqualified from further federal service.

1986 – Harry E. Claiborne (District of Nevada). Impeached on two charges of tax evasion and one charge of bringing disrepute to the federal judiciary. He was convicted by the Senate, but was not disqualified.

1988 – Alcee Hostings (Southern District of Florida). Impeached for accepting a $150,000 bribe in a racketeering case where he imposed a lenient sentence, and for perjury in his own testimony about the case. The Senate convicted Judge Hastings by just two votes more than required for the two-thirds majority. He was not disqualified and was eventually elected as a U.S. Representative from Florida.

1989 – Walter Nixon (District of Mississippi). Impeached for committing perjury during a grand jury hearing involving drug charges against the son of a long-time friend and business partner. Judge Nixon went to prison as a result of a subsequent federal trial. He was impeached and removed from office while he was in federal prison.

(Note: Both the Hostings and Nixon cases were the basis of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Senate’s right to hold impeachment trials without the traditional “due process” granted to everyone else under the U.S. Bill of Rights.)

2010 – Thomas Porteous (Eastern District of Louisiana).  Impeached and convicted under four articles that included conduct incompatible with being a judge, corruption, making false statements about his personal bankruptcy case and lying to the U.S. Senate and FBI about his shady dealings as a state judge in order to get his appointment to the district court. Judge Porteous was convicted on all articles, removed from office and permanently disqualified from holding future federal office.

The foregoing five district court judges were the only judges removed, but there were others impeached but not convicted by reason of acquittal or resignation:

1830 – James H. Peck (District of Missouri) – Acquitted

1873 – Mark W. Delahay (District of Kansas) – Resigned

1904 – Charles Swayne (Northern District of Florida) – Acquitted

1926 – George W. English – (Eastern District of Illinois) – Resigned

1933 – Harold Louderback (Northern District of California) – Acquitted

2009 – Samuel B. Kent (Southern District of Texas) – Resigned

Source for this article: Wikipedia article, “Impeachment in the United States.”