U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will not preside at the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump as he did during Trump’s first impeachment. Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D- Vt., who serves in the largely ceremonial role of Senate president pro-tempore, is set to preside.
Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution states "When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside." However, it does not mention that requirement of former presidents who, at that point, are private citizens.
Leahy presided when prosecutors delivered the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection" to the Senate Monday. Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of Feb. 8, and the case against Trump, the first former president to face an impeachment trial.
“When presiding over an impeachment trial, the president pro tempore takes an additional special oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws. It is an oath that I take extraordinarily seriously," Leahy said in a statement.
"I consider holding the office of the president pro tempore and the responsibilities that come with it to be one of the highest honors and most serious responsibilities of my career," he continued. "When I preside over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, I will not waver from my constitutional and sworn obligations to administer the trial with fairness, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws."
Leahy will serve a dual role. He'll be both presiding over the trial and be part of the jury. At the end, he will be one of the 100 senators to vote whether to convict Trump. That fact drew rebuke from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
"Unprecedented; never happened in all of American history. So there isn't a Senate rule or constitutional provision authorizing this. How does a Senator preside, like a judge, and serve as juror too?" Cornyn tweeted.
A Senate president pro-tempore presiding over an impeachment trial is not unprecedented. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, presided over the impeachment of U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. in 2010.
When Cornyn was told that fact, he made a differentiation that one was for a judge while the current case is for a president. There is no precedent for a senator to preside over the impeachment trial of a former president because, until now, there has never been any impeachment trial for a former president.
The start date gives Trump’s new legal team time to prepare its case, while also providing more than a month's distance from the passions of the bloody riot. For the Democratic-led Senate, the intervening weeks provide prime time to confirm some of Biden’s key Cabinet nominees.