At a press conference on Monday, December 14, 1998, the ACLU of Southern California spoke out against the House Judiciary Committee's vote to impeach the President. The ACLU/SC charges that the impeachment proceedings have produced serious threats to civil liberties and to the constitutional structure on which they depend.
Lies under oath, perjury and obstruction of justice are serious matters. However, they constitute impeachable offenses only if they relate to the discharge of official duties or governmental powers, and corrupt or subvert the political and governmental process.
Constitutional law professor and ACLU Board Member, Mary Ellen Gale, said, "I stress the fact that the ACLU/SC does not deny the seriousness of perjury and obstruction of justice. However, the question should be whether these are impeachable offenses when they do not relate to the discharge of official duties or governmental powers, and do not corrupt or subvert the political and governmental process."
The ACLU/SC believes Congress should consider whether the independent counsel abused government power by using interrogation to transform the desire for personal privacy into false statements or perjury, and whether evidence procured by such means can legitimately provide the necessary foundation for removal of a president from office, at least in the absence of other presidential wrongdoing that rises to the constitutional threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Ramona Ripston, ACLU/SC Executive Director, said, "The founding fathers knew all too well the consequences of political rivalry and bickering. No future president will be safe from the partisan removal from office by the opposite party, should it gain a Congressional majority. Unjustified impeachment proceedings should not be used to undermine the presidency or to usurp the people's right to decide who shall serve as President."
A major foundation of our constitutional democracy is respect for human dignity and autonomy, and for individual freedom to make intimate personal choices without unjustified government intrusion or inquisition. The investigation of the President and the impeachment proceedings have placed these constitutional values in grave jeopardy.