Impeachment, Disqualification, and Human Rights

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Gerald L. Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, Harvard Law School.

Disqualification after impeachment prevents the return of unfit leaders to power by barring their re-election—but for how long? This article examines international human rights decisions on the duration of post-impeachment disqualification, including an important 2022 opinion of the European Court of Human Rights, along with the experience of impeachment in the United States. The neglected history of impeachment in U.S. states adds dimensions to the thinner narrative of impeachment at the U.S. federal level. The European insistence on keeping disqualification proportionate resonates with a minority practice of partial disqualification in the states. Nonetheless, the European Court’s prohibition of irreversible lifelong disqualification may be too rigid for democracies under threat.

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