As a House subcommittee meets today to consider whether or not Gov. Mark Sanford’s trips to Argentina warrant impeachment, censure is also on the table as a punishment option.
Censure would amount to a public rebuke instead of removal from office. Unlike impeachment, censure would require only a majority vote in the House instead of two thirds majority, and would not require a trial in the Senate.
Judiciary subcommittee Chairman Jim Harrison filed the censure resolution. “I wanted to have that there in case this doesn’t move forward,” says Harrison. “It’s not that I’ve made a decision that this is the proper remedy at this point. I haven’t made a decision on whether the governor’s leaving the state for five days constitutes serious misconduct.”
Clemson University professor Dave Woodard says censure is nothing compared to impeachment. “I think what the legislature is looking for is a way of ending this journey of impeachment,” said Dr. Woodard. “If you don’t go through impeachment with a trial and conviction, you’re looking for a way to end the investigation. Once you start down this road, it’s kind of hard to find an exit strategy. And this is one of them. If you vote censure, you’re ending the process, or sorts. I think that’s probably what they’re looking for.”
Woodard says if the panel leans toward impeachment, the challenge is to decide whether Sanford’s actions warrant his removal from office. “Even if you don’t think they deserve impeachment, you still need to do something to justify your investigation,” said Woodard. “That was talked about for Bill Clinton, but in the end they thought that what he had done–breaking an oath and lying to a grand jury–was serious enough to warrant something greater.”
“But it doesn’t do anything,” says Woodard. “It’s like shaking your finger, saying ‘Shame, shame,’ but he’s still governor. It’s a way of giving public notice that people think something was done wrong.”