With the U.S. Constitution torn to shreds in the recent past by many on the right ⏤ Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., come particularly to mind, along with the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani ⏤ it may seem that the president is sure to be exonerated in the Senate impeachment trial, assuming one is even held. McConnell has suggested he may not bring the articles of impeachment before the Senate. After all, what is the U.S. Constitution to him? He is not a constitutionalist, just one of the old boys.
Chief Justice John Roberts, whose job it is to preside over the trial, is conservative and distinguished by his reputation for ethics. He does not need the permission of McConnell to conduct the trial. The Senate majority leader is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.
The chief justice has the authority to convene the Senate for the trial and to strike from the panel those dozens of senators who have made clear in advance their determination either to exonerate or convict the president. Chief Justice Roberts can make rulings on evidence and argument consistent with accepted principles of law even if many in the Senate are indifferent or hostile to the actual application of the Constitution, which they periodically claim to revere, possibly without having read it lately.
Whether the president is then convicted or acquitted, Chief Justice Roberts will have shown the world that the United States, the world's oldest democracy, based on three co-equal branches of government, still adheres to its founding principles, however fallible the men and women now in charge of executing them.