Discussion of impeachment may be moot by lunchtime, as Republican leadership’s willingness to file bipartisan articles of impeachment and the Governor’s release of killer Jason Ravnsborg’s police interviews put a fork in any hope he had of avoiding removal from office and make resignation today much more likely.
But for you Constitution hawks, it’s worth noting that South Dakota’s impeachment process differs from federal impeachment in one key aspect: if the House impeaches a state official, the impeachee is suspended from office until the Senate votes to convict or acquit:
The Senate is prohibited from hearing the case for at least 20 days after the notice of impeachment is served upon the impeached state official. Rules of evidence, discovery, and subpoena power are all available as the Senate hears the case.
Section 5 of Article 16 requires the impeached state official be “suspended from duties” from the time between impeachment and acquittal. The same section goes on to state, “No officer shall exercise the duties of his office after he shall have been impeached and before his acquittal.”
A Senate conviction requires at least a two-thirds majority vote. If convicted, the state constitution requires “removal from office and disqualification to hold any office of trust or profit under the state” [links added; Carter Woodiel and Patrick Callahan, “South Dakota Constitution Untested on Impeachment Proceedings,” KELO Radio, 2021.02.24].
The House could thus take Ravnsborg off the job as quickly as it can clear the Crossover-Day decks and pass the impeachment articles by majority vote. But even if the House can act by the end of business Thursday, the Senate would not get to put Ravnsborg away until March 17. The Legislature gavels out of its main run on March 11 and isn’t scheduled to return to Pierre until March 29 for Veto Day. The Senate could hold an impeachment trial during the interim before Veto Day, or they might try to conduct the trial on Veto Day itself, which won’t be as busy as last year’s unusual last day with emergency pandemic bills.
But no one wants to make those extra trips, and no sensible public figure would want to prolong the agony of sitting around in Pierre waiting for a trial in which no one will be rooting for him, especially when he will already be stripped of his duties and have nothing else to do. Even from a purely self-perservational perspective (and the police interview videos make clear that’s all Jason’s got), Jason can’t want to go down in history as the first and only person impeached by the South Dakota Legislature. The only way for him to escape that humiliation is to resign now. Resignation will deny us Constitution fanatics the opportunity to watch a fascinating Constitutional process play out… but our legal edification and entertainment can be got elsewhere and is of quaternary importance compared to the need to do justice now.