Senator objects to 'juror' label
Most of senators support basis for Harkin's objection
January 15, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 15) -- In the only interruption of the House managers' two-day presentation in the Senate impeachment trial, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) objected Friday to their continued references to the senators as "jurors," allowing for Chief Justice William Rehnquist to issue his first substantive ruling in the proceeding.
"I object to the use and the continued use of the word jurors," Harkin said in the first vocal objection of the trial. He spoke up during the final opening statement of the night by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia).
Rehnquist ruled in Harkin's favor. "The senator from Iowa's objection is well taken," the chief justice said. "The Senate is not simply a jury, it is a court in this case. Therefore counsel should refrain from referring to senators as jurors."
Following the trial's recess for the evening, Harkin exulted in his victory and explained that he believed the House prosecutors were attempting to "put us in a box" by limiting their roles to just that of jury.
Agreeing with Harkin that the senators are also "judges," Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey) said the differentiation was important because the expanded duty allows the members to make decisions based on the "larger national interest."
"I believe the Rehnquist ruling on Sen. Harkin's objection ensures that this trial now has a second phase. The House managers would have restricted the Senate to be triers of fact as jurors. The Rehnquist ruling redefined the U.S. Senate as a court, assures that senators are not simply triers of fact, but they are deciders of issues of law, and are allowed to decide issues of larger justice," Torricelli said.
Most senators agreed with Harkin's objection, though they didn't think Rehnquist's ruling would change how anyone approached their job.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said, "We have multi-dimensional role. So, it's both judge and jury and a United States Senator. So I think that that responsibility is conferred on us. And I don't think -- it's sort of a distinction without a difference. We recognize that we're playing a very unique role here."
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) believed Rehnquist's ruling corrected the managers' mischaracterization of the Senate as a grand jury: "In effect the chief justice was saying, with all due respect to the House managers 'you fail to have a fundamental understanding of the role of the Senate and the consideration of impeachment.'"
Barr, whose statement was interrupted by Harkin, said the use of the term was not meant to be limiting, but that the senators did fill the role of jurors in this case. "The Senate does sit as a jury in this proceeding -- they are the ones who are going to try this case and decide the ultimate conviction or acquittal of the president so in that sense they are definitely sitting as a jury."
But Barr said, "It really did not matter to me whether I refer to them as jurors or as triers of fact and law."
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