Will the Berkeley Impeachment Resolution Catch On?

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Many people may scoff at the decision earlier this week by the Berkeley City Council to put a resolution on the Nov. 7 ballot calling for President Bush and Vice President Cheney to be impeached. After all, 74,000 voters of what is often referred to as The People's Republic of Berkeley can't legally oust the President and Vice President. But Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates thinks his city is simply ahead of its time, as it has often proved to be in the past.

"Things happen in Berkeley that are seen as being quirky," Bates tells TIME. "But what we know is, those ideas that percolate in Berkeley today end up being conventional wisdom in the rest of the country tomorrow." Berkeley, after all, was the first city to start curbside recycling, ban Styrofoam and desegregate its public schools without a court order. Berkeley also took the lead in calling for municipalities to divest from South Africa during the apartheid era.

Indeed, while Berkeley may be the first city to put an impeachment resolution to its people, numerous city and town councils have already passed such resolutions, including San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Chapel Hill, N.C. State legislatures in Vermont, California and Illinois all have impeachment resolutions pending. To help raise awareness of the issue, there will be a series of teach-ins across the country this summer and fall, and a new film, "How to Impeach a President," will be screened — all part of the burgeoning impeachment effort called "Constitution Summer," led by a non-partisan coalition of students from the country's top law schools and universities.

"The President and Vice President are trampling on the Constitution," Bates says, summing up the city's collective view of the current Administration. "They're spying on people without warrants. They're arresting people and holding them without the opportunity to a trial. They're participating in a war where they basically lied to the Congress."

Some observers, however, question whether $10,000 of taxpayer money should be spent on a purely symbolic gesture that often is nothing more than a way for local elected officials to curry favor with voters. "City officials in California have a history of taking positions on national issues that have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of the local government," says Mark Baldassare, director of research at the Public Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank.

Eugene Volokh, a UCLA constitutional law professor and popular legal blogger, dismisses Berkeley's move as a "man bites dog story." Berkeley's new ballot measure and the grassroots movement to impeach Bush is just a way for the far left to express its "visceral anger," he says; unlike previous calls for presidential impeachment, which involved "clear criminal violations," the call by Berkeley and other cities to impeach Bush is about opposition to "judgment calls dealing about very, very serious national security problems." But as a veteran of the sharply divided blogosphere, Volokh should know better than most that criminality is in the eye of the beholder — and Berkeley's exercise in urban overreaching could well have nationwide resonance.