EVANSVILLE – Following a quick and tense announcement Monday, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill signaled he would not be leaving office without a fight. Nearly all of the statewide elected officials have called for his resignation, along with numerous other high ranking Republicans such as Gov. Eric Holcomb, Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long.

Assuming that Hill does not leave on his own, he may only be removed through one of two methods. First, he could be impeached by the House of Representatives and then convicted by the Indiana Senate, with a two-thirds vote required in each body. 

Alternatively, Hill could be removed by a joint resolution of the General Assembly, which would also require a two-thirds vote in each body (Ind. Const., Art. 6, Sec. 7).

Substantively, the Indiana Constitution specifies that removal can be sought by the Indiana legislature “for crime, incapacity, or negligence.” The phrase does not have a settled or clear meaning. The constitutional drafters were searching for a flexible standard that allows removal in a variety of situations. But they also wanted a standard that required some specific, demonstrable offenses for removal of state officers.

While he was still a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Minority Leader Gerald Ford famously noted that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” 

As with the federal impeachment process, Indiana’s removal process gives the legislature the authority to determine appropriateness for removal, so if the legislature is willing to remove a state officer, then for all practical purposes it can.

No statewide office holder has been impeached in the state’s history, so we have no standard rules to follow. If Indiana chooses to follow the federal example, the Senate would pass a resolution laying out trial procedures, including limiting the number of witnesses and the length of depositions. Unlike a normal criminal trial, the jury in an impeachment sets the rules for a case and decides what evidence they want to see and what they won’t.

Impeachment of a state officer is no small matter, and we should not approach it as a simple technical application of the law. The process would dominate the political agenda for months and throw the government (and Republican Party) into disarray. An unsuccessful effort to remove Hill would leave him and the GOP damaged and enfeebled. If some Hill supporters believe the removal effort was unjustified, it will escalate partisan tensions and feed political distrust in the same way it has with Trump in Washington. 

The political capital needed for a two-thirds vote would be the same whether it’s done through impeachment or a joint resolution, but a joint resolution would be much quicker. A protracted trial in the Indiana Senate would be long, messy, controversial, and costly. 

While Hill is likely struggling in the court of public opinion — and at least one group already has a poll in the field — he would likely portray a Senate impeachment trial as wasteful and unnecessary to a public potentially sympathetic to that argument.

Taken altogether, we should expect to see Bosma and Long pursue a joint resolution for removal rather than a full impeachment trial, while Democratic leaders may opt to pursue a full impeachment and exploit a rift within the GOP.

As one would expect, Curtis Hill continues to portray this as a criminal proceeding and demands all of the due process protections typically included in a criminal trial. But the removal process is political, rather than criminal in nature. 

Regardless of removal’s political nature, Curtis Hill and the Indiana legislature have a responsibility to avoid civil strife and put the state on a stronger footing. Let’s hope they listen to their better angels and achieve that result. 

Joshua Claybourn is an Evansville attorney with Jackson Kelly PLLC.