A 9NEWS viewer named Scott emailed us to ask whether presidents have the power to remove federal judges who were appointed by previous administrations.


The short answer is no. Congress is the only entity that's been recognized as an authority when it comes to removing a judge from office since our country's founding.

The way it works is the House of Representatives votes to impeach, and then the Senate votes to convict.

However, Article III of the U.S. Constitution doesn't explicitly give this power to Congress. Here's what it says:

“The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.”

Most legal scholars take this to mean federal judges must be impeached by Congress and changing that would require a favorable vote from three-fourths of the states.

But there are a handful – including former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist – who think the “good behavior” clause could allow people to petition the court to remove judges for bad behavior.

If you're curious, here's a link to a Yale Law Journal article that explains how this might work.

A president could theoretically be that petitioner, but he or she would need a good reason.

Judges are rarely impeached.

The House has impeached 15 judges since our country's founding, according to the Federal Judicial Center.

Out of those 15 judges, the Senate convicted and removed eight of them, acquitted four and didn't get to vote on three because they resigned.


No one but Congress has ever successfully removed a federal judge from the bench, and anything outside of the traditional impeachment process would almost certainly land in the U.S. Supreme Court.