By Michael M. Gleeson
The House on Friday voted to impeach imprisoned Judge Samuel Kent. It marked the first time the lower chamber had impeached a judge in more than 20 years.
The House adopted three of the four counts of impeachments unanimously. On the fourth charge of making materially false and misleading statements to the FBI and Justice Department, Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) voted present.
“ The impeachment standard is very high,” Watt told The Hill. “My feeling was that shading the truth or lying violates criminal standards, but does not rise to the standard of impeachment.” He added, “In its totality, it is clear that this gentlemen needs to be impeached. But when you vote on the articles one by one, then you will see that certain ones do not rise to the standard of impeachment."
The 59-year-old Kent, who serves as a judge in Texas, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an investigation into accusations he sexually assaulted two of his female employees and then lied to a federal court of appeals investigative committee and the FBI.
As part of his plea bargain, Kent on Monday began serving a 33-month prison sentence.
The House moved forward the vote Friday in order to stop Kent from continuing to receive his salary of $174,000 and benefits.
Under federal rules, judges receive their salaries and benefits unless they either resign or are impeached.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who was impeached by the House in 1988 and convicted by the Senate in 1989 for a "corrupt conspiracy" to extort a $150,000 bribe, supported all the impeachment motions against Kent. Hastings was never convicted in a court of law.
Friday's roll call on Kent was the first time the lower chamber had voted to impeach a judge since the 1988 vote on Hastings and another federal judge.
Kent has been facing increasing pressure to resign and recently submitted his resignation letter to President Obama, but dated it for June 2010, a move to assure his wife would continue to receive health benefits.
The postdating of the letter upset some lawmakers. Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) called the judge “manipulative.”
If Kent is not impeached he will continue to draw his salary till his resignation takes effect in June 2010.
Some members took pause Friday reflecting on the historic nature of the vote.
“This is a rare and extraordinary step,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). But Kent’s crimes were “appalling” and warrant such action, King added.
Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) said, “It is never pleasant to impeach someone. But when you violate the trust of the office to which you are appointed or elected, sometimes there is no other choice.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) took the opposite stance, saying this is one of the “easier” impeachment votes he will ever cast.
“You have a criminal in prison who refuses to resign,” he said. “You have [with Kent] someone who has abused the trust of the bench and is only remaining in office to feather their own income and retirement.”
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), a former judge, said in the past he has had “philosophical differences” with judges. But Friday’s roll call, he noted, was not a vote on judicial differences, but rather, a referendum on the fact Kent committed a felony and is in prison.
“We are past the point of allegation,” Poe said. “He committed a felony and is sitting in prison. It is time to impeach him.”
Former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said, “Justice has been served today by the House voting to impeach Judge Kent.”
“Judges are not above the law,” Sensenbrenner said. “Our democracy depends on the rule of law and Judge Kent clearly disregarded the law without remorse.”
On Wednesday the full House Judiciary Committee voted 29-0 to impeach Kent, setting up Friday’s vote in the full House.
The case now moves on the Senate for trial. However, a senior House aide did not expect the Senate to take up the issue this year.