The idea of a secret ballot takes that practice one step further. Again, there are strong legal precedents, but they come from outside the impeachment context. Other countries, including the United Kingdom, use secret ballots when their legislatures hold no-confidence votes, which can oust a prime minister. Closer to home, jurors in criminal and civil cases throughout the United States always deliberate and vote in secret. If they didn’t, the Supreme Court has warned, “[f]reedom of debate might be stifled” and “improper influence” could taint the verdict. These concerns ought to resonate with Republican senators, who are well aware that President Trump monitors their behaviors “very carefully.”
Ironically, operating outside of public view could make it easier for senators to act in accordance with public sentiment. An overwhelming majority of Americans, including well over half of Republicans, view it as inappropriate to “ask for assistance from a foreign government to help … win an election.” (“Bribing” a foreign government to help win an election would presumably poll even worse.) Yet many Republican officeholders fear the prospect of primary challengers from the right who will brook no criticism of the president or his actions. Closed sessions provide some insulation from these censorious forces. Insofar as it allows Republican senators to look beyond the most extreme elements of their primary electorates, secrecy can be consistent with “delegate” models of democracy, in which representatives are meant to be responsive to their entire constituencies, not merely factions thereof.