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Sketching Impeachment

Sketching Impeachment

RISD graduate Bill Hennessy is one of three courtroom artists covering the historic trial in the US Senate.

Courtroom sketch by courtroom sketch artist Bill Hennessy 79 PT

Virginia-based artist Bill Hennessy 79 PT is one of three courtroom sketch artists covering the presidential impeachment trial this month in the US Senate.

Although courtroom sketching is something of a fading art, this old-school method has resurfaced during the proceedings since press coverage is being tightly controlled—with no cameras or cell phones allowed in the Senate chamber and only limited video footage available from the legislative body’s own cameras.

Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch, Chief Justice John Roberts during presidential impeachment trial
Chief Justice John Roberts presides over the preceding.

Hennessy, who is covering the historic proceedings for CNN and CBS, has been in the business for decades, creating news sketches to document major cases such as Bush v Gore in the Supreme Court and early Guantanamo Bay proceedings.

Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch, attendees of the presidential impeachment trial

Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch, Senator Rob Portman's desk during the presidential impeachment trial
Yes, cell phones are banned from the chamber, but Hennessy drew what he saw—this one on the desk of Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

Hennessy had last been in the Senate chamber more than 20 years ago when covering the impeachment of President Clinton (which ran for two months, from mid December 1998 through mid February 1999).

“These images... [are] how we remember our legal past.”

curator sara duke

“It was striking to be back in that building and recognize that I’d done a drawing from this same angle,” he told The Washington Post.

In fact, Hennessy says, he’s actually sitting in the exact same seat again.

Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch from the presidential impeachment trial

Unfortunately, given that he’s perched in the press section of the balcony—on the Republican side of the chamber—it’s challenging to see the senators and House impeachment managers very closely.

Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch spot illustrations from the presidential impeachment trial

Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch from the presidential impeachment trial, a piece of paper being passed

Yet each day Hennessy and his two cohorts covering the trial for The New York Times and the Associated Press are generating fascinating glimpses into history as it unfolds.

Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch from the presidential impeachment trial, a protester briefly interrupting the trial
A protester briefly interrupts the trial on January 22.

“Americans rarely stop to think about the talent and energy that goes into that three-second pan [across the sketches that appear] on the television evening news or [in a] newspaper article,” notes Sara Duke, curator of a 2017 Library of Congress exhibition called Drawing Justice.

Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch from the presidential impeachment trial, senate republicans huddling
Senate Republicans huddle on January 23.
Bill Hennessy 79 PT courtroom sketch from the presidential impeachment trial, Senator RIchard Burr leaning back in his chair
Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) sees no need for socks.

“But there is a certain amount of genius that goes into rendering a likeness quickly,” Duke points out. “These images, whether we realize it or not, stay with us—[they’re] how we remember our collective legal past.”

—Liisa Silander / images by Bill Hennessy

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