The Institutional Design of Impeachment Processes

Based on Rousseff’s impeachment trial in Brazil, this paper examines a fundamental variable of impeachment processes: their timing. The essence of the impeachment decision is to check whether the risk of a political breakdown is outweighed by the risk of maintaining a president who usurps her powers (Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz). The speed with which the process is conducted is the key mechanism that regulates the incentives of the actors throughout the trial. Legislative perceptions of the President’s performance are affected by key markers, such as mass protests and adverse media campaigns. As negative ratings gain momentum, the fastest the trial goes and the likeliest an ousting becomes. Moreover, an impeachment is more probable to occur, the further away the next presidential election is. The paper claims that the more political the trial is, the more it will be guided by opinion polls and electoral prospects and the less it will rely on legal redundancies (Robert Cover).