VLS alum aids in impeachment process

By Michelle Amidzich, News Editor

Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is a Vermont Law School alumnus with an important role in the presidential impeachment trial. MacDonough determines the basic rules of the trial. Her advice will have a historic effect on how the trial unravels.

MacDonough is the seventh person and first woman to hold the position since its inception by Congress in 1935. The Parliamentarian office derives its authority from Article I, Section 5 (Membership, Rules, Journals, Adjournment) of the Constitution. Both houses of Congress have their own respective parliamentarians.

The Senate Parliamentarian fields questions from the presiding officer of the Senate about motions or actions. The Parliamentarian also interprets standing rules about legislation. The interpretations are not binding, but the presiding officer usually accepts the interpretation.

While the rules and interpretations of Senate proceedings are cumbersome, perhaps MacDonough’s biggest challenge is refereeing the impeachment trial. Understanding the rules and procedures of the impeachment trial is difficult because there is little precedent for MacDonough to follow.

According to Darren Samuelsohn of Politico, “They read everything they could find on the subject, including transcripts and other historic materials from the two previous impeachment trials of U.S. presidents… they also looked at 17 other impeachment cases involving judges and other government officials dating to the John Adams administration.”

The notes are on a laptop, which they are permitted to bring on the Senate’s typically “no-electronics” floor in order to access their research at a moment’s notice.

MacDonough and her three member staff advise Chief Justice John Roberts on the proceedings, which means fielding questions that may have never been addressed. MacDonough’s responses to such questions must be quick, and they could influence the trial’s direction.

Each day of the impeachment proceedings, MacDonough and her team are responsible for delivering the daily program to Chief Justice Roberts. The team also keeps track of time for each speaker – a trivial sounding role, but one that is critical to ensure the chamber operates as agreed upon by the parties.

While the role may be challenging, MacDonough is known among her 100 bosses to be tough and non-partisan. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy has been quoted saying, “I’ve been here with many, many parliamentarians. All were good. But she’s the best.”

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