January 5, 2011

"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States..."

"... against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

That's the wording of the oath of office taken by members of Congress, used yesterday as Chief Justice John Roberts "presided over a closed-door ceremony in the offices of the soon-to-be House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, to swear in his staff a day before Republicans are scheduled to take control of the chamber."

I'm linking to the NYT, where the first comment is "did he cry?" Boehner, famously, cries easily, and I think the oath actually is the sort of thing that would move him to tears. Read it. Seriously. Does it reach you in a deep place that gives rise to tears? If not, why not?

How many members of Congress take that oath with mental reservation and purpose of evasion and don't even feel a twinge of conscience when they say those words? How many members of Congress take that oath and it's just words — written more than a hundred years ago — and they don't even have a spark of awareness of what they are promising to do, so the purpose of evasion doesn't even flicker across a synapse?

IN THE COMMENTS: The Crack Emcee says:
And, after all that, you're surprised how I talk about marriage?
Strangely, the news that Russ Feingold will teach a course at Marquette Law School got me looking back at a post I wrote in 2005 about a lecture he gave at Wisconsin Law School, and I see that the lecture focused on the congressional oath and I brought up the issue of the marital oath:
I would never have said this out loud, but I couldn't help thinking how interesting it was that Feingold shaped his whole lecture around the sanctity of the oath, when just a few days ago he announced that he was getting a divorce, his second. Was I the only one who thought how strange it was to hear a man piously invoke a passionate fidelity to an oath when he had -- so conspicuously -- gone back on the marriage oath twice?\

But I like Senator Feingold. I do think he's a good man. I don't presume to know what happens to people in their marriages, and I am divorced myself. Nevertheless, he could have discussed his devotion to the Constitution from some perspective other than the fact that he'd sworn an oath. Taking an oath to the Constitution, after all, is not the strongest reason to support it.

69 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

And, after all that, you're surprised how I talk about marriage?

Original Mike said...

"Does it reach you in a deep place that gives rise to tears?"

Yes. I'm moved when I hear other people sworn in, so I imagine I'd tear up it it was me. It speaks of a higher calling.

TWM said...

I didn't tear-up, but I certainly felt a swell of pride and a profound sense of responsiblity when I took the oath during my commissioning as a brand new butter bar (Air Force) many years ago.

I'd like to think that all members of Congress feel that way as well, but I know they don't. Because if they did, we wouldn't be in the trouble we are in now.

EDH said...

How many members of Congress take that oath and it's just words — written more than a hundred years ago — and they don't even have a spark of awareness of what they are promising to do, so the purpose of evasion doesn't even flicker across a synapse?

Ask Ezra Klein.

former law student said...

Did Chief Justice Roberts stumble over the words this time, as he did with Obama?

Original Mike said...

"I'd like to think that all members of Congress feel that way as well, but I know they don't. Because if they did, we wouldn't be in the trouble we are in now."

Yeah. No kidding.

Sheepman said...

Did Roberts flub the oath again, or did he use a cheat sheet?

MadisonMan said...

The Chief Justice is swearing in Legislative Staff members? As in he has nothing better to do with his time?

This is a foolish waste of time and money, IMO. Can these staff members not sign a piece of paper like everyone else?

Hoosier Daddy said...

Its the cynic in me but I believe most career politicians are only truly moved to tears when they lose an election. Otherwise the crying crap is just that. The classic Clinton tear wiping at some funeral when just minutes before was seen yukking it up with some guy is case in point.

David said...

There's something that's always bothered me about the oath: what does "same" mean in the phrase "I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same?" Is it the United States, or is it the Constitution of the United States? Parsing the language makes me think it's the Constitution rather than the nation, and frankly that's what I'd prefer, but nonetheless it seems both ambiguous and a little odd to swear true faith and allegiance to a document written over 100 years ago.

If it does mean the Constitution, then it's been a long time since any Congressperson took the oath without mental reservation or purpose of evasion. Some of those reservations are: as interpreted by the Supreme Court; as I secretly interpret it; with the proviso that the power of the federal government is effectively unchecked; etc., etc., etc.

ricpic said...

Legislate in accordance with the constitution, Tea Party Republicans. Make the statists tear their hair out. That is all we the people ask. It's really not much no matter how loud the usual suspects cry that the sky is falling.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I think the oath actually is the sort of thing that would move him to tears. Read it. Seriously. Does it reach you in a deep place that gives rise to tears? If not, why not?

No it doesn't. I didn't cry when taking my wedding vows either but then I was too young and naieve to see the magnitude of what I was getting into ;-) I'll be celebrating 20 years in October so tears maybe in my future.

Perhaps the oath that servicemen take when enlisting is more appropos to priming the tear ducts. To me that oath means something because the oathtaker is backing it up with his own life. What does some Congresscritter have on the line other than his or her re-election?

I think R. Lee Ermey's Geico commericial fits my view here.

edutcher said...

Ann's point, "How many members of Congress take that oath with mental reservation and purpose of evasion and don't even feel a twinge of conscience when they say those words? ... and they don't even have a spark of awareness of what they are promising to do, so the purpose of evasion doesn't even flicker across a synapse?" is very apt. A lot of people in Congress know they're flouting the Constitution and don't care. But then, more than a few have a barely functioning synapse they can call their own.

former law student said...

Did Chief Justice Roberts stumble over the words this time, as he did with Obama?

That happens when you have to do something you know is a farce. Bet he did just fine this time.

MadisonMan said...

The Chief Justice is swearing in Legislative Staff members? As in he has nothing better to do with his time?

Maybe reminding them of their duties seemed like a worthwhile thing.

David said...

I should note the First Amendment suffers from a similar ambiguity: does "thereof" in the Free Exercise Clause mean "religion" or "an establishment of religion." If you think that "same" in the oath of office means "the Constitution of the United States" then you should also think that "thereof" means "an establishment of religion," but that would dramatically change the accepted meaning of the Free Exercise Clause, which is interpreted as if "thereof" means "religion."

Larry J said...

TWM said...
I didn't tear-up, but I certainly felt a swell of pride and a profound sense of responsiblity when I took the oath during my commissioning as a brand new butter bar (Air Force) many years ago.

I'd like to think that all members of Congress feel that way as well, but I know they don't. Because if they did, we wouldn't be in the trouble we are in now.


Same here. Unlike the politicians, when I swore the oath during enlistment and later at commissioning, I actually meant it. Too bad failing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution isn't an impeachable offense.

Scott M said...

Well, unlike those of us that served in the military, congresscritter oaths don't include them having to give their lives for it.

Bob_R said...

I'm a sucker for a good soundtrack. Put the right music in the background while I was saying it and I would well up.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I'm a sucker for a good soundtrack. Put the right music in the background while I was saying it and I would well up.

Star Wars Imperial March.

MadisonMan said...

Maybe reminding them of their duties seemed like a worthwhile thing.

Again, these are just staff members. Not elected Congresscritters. Why can't these staffmember's own boss -- Boehner -- remind them of their duties.

This is a waste of money and served no purpose except allowing Boehner to say I got the Chief Justice to swear in My Staff -- who'd you get? to his fellow Legislators.

ricpic said...

My mom used to say that whenever people cry - whatever the supposed reason - they're crying for themselves.

former law student said...

This is a waste of money and served no purpose except allowing Boehner to say I got the Chief Justice to swear in My Staff -- who'd you get? to his fellow Legislators.


Ah. When Boehner snaps his fingers, CJ Roberts comes running.

Scott M said...

Star Wars Imperial March.

What's funny about that, HD, is that 1) that's the ringtone I have on my phone for when my wife calls me. Endlessly hilarious.

and

2) which party expands government again? Remember that when you make glib jokes about imperialisms.

holdfast said...

And how about the Congress Creatures who go on betray the United States, like Kennedy going to the USSR behind Reagan's back? Do you think he cared?

Kirk Parker said...

"The classic Clinton tear wiping at some funeral when just minutes before was seen yukking it up with some guy is case in point."

Well, the problem with the Clinton thing wasn't that he was seen smiling at a funeral, and later wiping tears. That sort of thing happens at every funeral I've ever been to. Rather, it was that Clinton was caught on camera having a moment of mirth with someone, notices the camera, and immediately switches to a sad scowl--i.e. turning it on for the camera.

Hoosier Daddy said...

What's funny about that, HD, is that 1) that's the ringtone I have on my phone for when my wife calls me. Endlessly hilarious

I have Frau Farbissima yelling "Send in the GUARDS!!" as my ringtone for Mrs. Hoosier.

Actually she got a kick out of it.

Scott M said...

My wife's not overly thrilled about my ringtone. My father, on the other hand, finds it endlessly hilarious.

J said...

JQ Adams took his oath of office on the Constitution, but not Good Book. Doesn't appear to be a bible involved here. And as Judge Roberti surely knows (but keeps to hisself), there's an issue with..which Bible. Vulgate? King James? Torah? Masonic? (I sh*t you not, Frau A-chen--Bush I swore his oath on Washington's masonic bible). Then Judge Roberti most likely winces hearing Deus called a G*d as in...Thor

Cedarford said...

I'd say a considerable number of people take the Oath and substitute "America and It's People" for the Holy Parchment - as they take office intending on ending birthright citizenship, overturning the "right there somewhere in the Constitution" mandatory availability of abortion, according to the Holy Diviners of the Parchment.
Perhaps they fully intend on defying the Parchment and keeping an Army and the apparantly Unconstitutional Air Force - which the Founders did not provide for.

Maybe liberals taking the Oath reason that the President can't claim all the War Powers without Congress Formally declaring War - something we made illegal in 1945 but never fixed the archaic language - or believe we cannot fight terrorists because the Holy Parchment says only nations can be warred against.

But are OK with the emenation of a penumbra of Affirmative Action cannot be Constitutionally ended for another 25 years, according to the Wisdom of the Female Diviner O'Connor.

Almost all the Republicans and Democrats taking the Oath believe that the Amending Process has been broken for decades - and anything they object to in the Constitution will have to be changed by law and selecting the right judges to undermine what doesn't work in this modern age or which they just vehemently disagree with.

And all would likely agree that in extremis, Lincoln and Justice Hughes and Justice Jackson were correct - nation before Constitution, and the thing doesn't obligate us to become mindlessly obedient lemmings bound in a suicide pact.

Ann Althouse said...

The Crack Emcee said..."And, after all that, you're surprised how I talk about marriage?"

Interestingly, on seeing that Russ Feingold will teach at Marquette Law School, I looked back on a 2005 post of mine covering a speech he gave at UW Law School. I wrote:

"I would never have said this out loud, but I couldn't help thinking how interesting it was that Feingold shaped his whole lecture around the sanctity of the oath, when just a few days ago he announced that he was getting a divorce, his second. Was I the only one who thought how strange it was to hear a man piously invoke a passionate fidelity to an oath when he had -- so conspicuously -- gone back on the marriage oath twice?"

mrs whatsit said...

I watched my son take this oath when he and the rest of his graduating ROTC class were commissioned last year. None of the new officers showed any sign of tears as, one by one, they took the oath -- but it didn't require tears to make it plain that each one of those hopeful, accomplished,young, young, young men and women, with their brand-new uniforms and their shining faces, understood the import of the language and meant every word.

As for those of us watching, I don't suppose there are many parents who could hear their children speak such words in such a context without the kind of emotion that goes a good bit deeper than tears. What surprised me wasn't the tearful mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and husbands and wives -- it was the frank emotion on the faces of the commanding officers, who, after all, hear new young officers speak those words every year and might be expected to be used to it. But then again, I suppose they knew the oath's full meaning better than anyone else in the room.

bgates said...

Star Wars Imperial March.

George Lucas gave exclusive rights to use that in swearing-in ceremonies to Nancy Pelosi.

Then she gave him a $113M earmark to digitally add images of high-speed rail to Tatooine for the 40th anniversary re-release of Star Wars.

Scott M said...

In most cases, I would agree, AA. However, and I know nothing of his marriages, there is a difference between stating an oath that you have complete control over because you are the only one taking it, as in an oath of office, and one that is in essence a shared oath, such as in a wedding ceremony.

The problem is that while in the first case, the individual is wholly responsible for upholding it, in the second, you're only one half of a whole. There is every possibility that the other has broken their oath to you...turned away from the marriage in any way you can think of. In such a case, I think you don't break an oath so much as surrender to your spouses failure to uphold their end.

bgates said...

Did Chief Justice Roberts stumble over the words this time

Ha! Remember that time he said "my Muslim faith"?

Or when he didn't know Austrian isn't a language?

Or that Auschwitz is in Poland?

Or that Hirohito never signed surrender papers?

Or that "Quatro de Cinco" doesn't mean "May 4th"?

Or when he didn't know how car insurance works?

Or when he didn't recognize the bill he had invited Republicans to debate and called it a prop?

Then there was the time he gave us this pearl:
“The Middle East is an issue that has plagued the region for centuries”

He thought Kennedy was President in 1960.

He saw some of the people Memorial Day honors in the audience for a speech.

Stupid Chief Justice!

J said...

Judge Johnny --"Do you, Mr Boehner, solemnly swear to promote American business and finance, work to end any and all bureaucratic, liberal or collectivist regulations on capitalist endeavors, affirm theocracy, and in short follow orders from your wealthy superiors, so help you Gott??"
........

CachorroQuente said...

Yes, it was more than 100 years ago--1884 was the year. Interesting to me that members of Congress are required to reference the deity but presidents, in their oath of office, are not.

Lucien said...

Importantly, the oath is to support and defend the Constitution. It is not to support and defend national security, or the safety of Americans, or feelings of safety and security.

So, whenever there is a conflict between safety,or national security and the rights of anyone under the Constitution, the first question to ask should be: "Which one of these things did I actually take an oath to support and defend?"

MadisonMan said...

which party expands government again?

Is that a trick question? They both do.

Freeman Hunt said...

The oath is intimidating.

People should contemplate it deeply before running for office.

But then, most people who run for office are political animals and so don't care about character, let alone oaths.

Scott M said...

Touche and poorly phrased on my part. There's little worse than bad snark.


The Democrats have proven themselves just fine and dandy with using the heavy hand of government to intrude more and more into our daily lives. You could possibly argue that that's exactly what the GOP was doing when the social conservatives ran the roost, but I don't believe that washes anymore.

Frankly, we're out of cash and nearly out of time. Both sides are going to have to start showing federal drones the exists tout de suite.

raf said...

I took that oath, too, as a US Army officer, and often wondered what my responsibilities therefore were when I thought that the President/Congress was violating the document I had sworn to defend against [domestic enemies].

I still wonder.

wv: rentinut - the crazy guy available for hire? Any politician?

Freeman Hunt said...

My husband and I recently watched a short documentary about the Secret Service, and I have a question about the oath.

They take the same oath as the one in this blog post.

Say some wannabe dictator gets elected President and then through some series of circumstances, pronounces himself king for life.

Does the Secret Service immediately arrest him?

The Drill SGT said...

all Federal employees take the oath, but I don't think that most take it as seriously as those within the DoD, or the enforcement branches

For the record, I get emotional reading it today.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Say some wannabe dictator gets elected President and then through some series of circumstances, pronounces himself king for life.

Does the Secret Service immediately arrest him?


Caligula was murdered by the Praetorian Guard. I don't think they were into the whole arresting thing.

edutcher said...

former law student said...
This is a waste of money and served no purpose except allowing Boehner to say I got the Chief Justice to swear in My Staff -- who'd you get? to his fellow Legislators.

Ah. When Boehner snaps his fingers, CJ Roberts comes running.


Sounds like Alpha hijacked fls' ID.

Freeman Hunt said...

I like that the ceremony was private. Private = cheap. Private = more concentrating, less posturing. Maybe some of them actually thought about the oath for a second with no hamming to do for the cameras.

Class factotum said...

Too bad he's not as important as the temporary Milwaukee County executive, Lee Holloway, who will govern for up to 30 days as he decides whom to appoint (maybe himself) as an interim county executive until the April election. If he were Lee Holloway, he could have a public swearing in - for a 30-day, unelected position - with an audience of 250 and a transition team of 33.

Roger J. said...

What drill sgt said--it may be a military thing; my Regimental Commander swore me in one on one with only the command sergeant major there--he saluted me when I was sworn and I gave him his dollar (a military thing); we were all moved.

and our military has never become a praetorian guard, Douglas MacArthur's plans notwithstanding. and I think that is a function of the oath we took and take today.

HDHouse said...

I think the fine print is Feingold took an oath to support and defend the constitution and not "to the constitution" as Ann summarizes.

It appears that these are two different things.

It is obvious that any number of the newly elected are not dedicated to all the amendments - the 14th under the most attack - but they are now oath bound to support it anyway and defend it against all enemies..

Twinge of conscience or not.

HDHouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HDHouse said...

Freeman Hunt said...
I like that the ceremony was private. ...."

Until they emerged and made sure everyone knew about it...

I hope they made it to the fundraiser at the W...I heard it was pretty posh.

Kirk Parker said...

Hoosier,

Ah, the old "shot while resisting arrest/trying to flee" move, eh?


wv: aming -- what the dyslexic SS agents are good at.

Kirk Parker said...

HDH,

You might want to review the difference between "private" and "secret".

john harvard said...

Serious law-blog-type question:

Are there 2 constitutions: "Big-C" and "small-c"?

Hear me out:

The small-c word existed long before the Framers convened. They chose and capitalized it for the document they wrote, when many other 18th-century words and phrases might have been suitable: "Union Treaty," "Instrument of Federation," "Agreement of the States," etc.

What was the commonly accepted meaning of the small-c word "constitution" at the time of the Framers, and why did they select it for their document?

My tentative theory is that the small-c constitution is a noumenon that always exists - basically, the underlying structure of the nation itself, just as a person is still sometimes described as having an "excellent constitution" - i.e., being in good health. OTOH, the Big-C Constitution as a tangible phenomenon sacramentally embodies this structure, which exists with or without the piece of paper (hence the concept that the enumeration of rights is not exhaustive).

And the Framers chose this word to emphasize that they were writing down the governing principles of a single entity. To continue the bodily-health analogy, we don't talk about our liver's constitution as vs our stomach's, etc - we just say the person as a whole has a good or bad constitution.

So when the Framers talk about the constitution, sometimes they are referring to the noumenon - the American system - and sometimes to the phenomenon - the piece of paper.

Also, the Brits can with a straight face talk about their constitution, even though it cannot be found within the 4 corners of a single document. And they suppress laughter at us for thinking that we can entrap our constitution into such a limited vehicle (much as the established churches of England and Scotland reject the doctrine of transubstantiation).

Back to the oath (finally): we swear to support/defend both the big and small-c constitutions. That is, we uphold both the rules on the piece of paper and the underlying system or "health" of the nation. Hence, Lincoln could violate the big C while defending the small one and still look at himself in the mirror.

But what does a real lawprof think?

JH

(wv: whogr - a streetwalking ogre? Or a time-travelling one?)

former law student said...

--he saluted me when I was sworn and I gave him his dollar (a military thing);

Hey, doesn't that relate to "taking the king's shilling"? Shouldn't he have paid you?

Scott M said...

No. Not even close. When you are commissioned, you put a silver dollar in your pocket and give it to the first person that salutes you. Could be a buck private just in from basic or an E-9 (which is unlikely, lol). This is AF, though. Other branches mmv.

mariner said...

Taking an oath to the Constitution, after all, is not the strongest reason to support it.

I disagree.

For the people who swore the oath, it IS the strongest reason. It's also the strongest reason for us to expect those people to honor that oath.

The oath may have been sworn for good reasons or bad, with good motivations or bad, but that's a different story.

Cedarford said...

Lucien said...
Importantly, the oath is to support and defend the Constitution. It is not to support and defend national security, or the safety of Americans, or feelings of safety and security.

So, whenever there is a conflict between safety,or national security and the rights of anyone under the Constitution, the first question to ask should be: "Which one of these things did I actually take an oath to support and defend?"

=================
Look to the Preamble. It has the Goals, which the boilerplate and clauses and various judges interpretations STILL are obligated to support.

If you fail to provide for the Common Defense of we the people because the Sacred Parchment CLEARLY says no standing Army, no AF or because you are worried you can't war against a non-nation sort of enemy, nor defend against 10 NORK ICBMs by blowing the hell out the NORKs before they can launch 2-9 because there isn't time for Congress to properly debate and vote......

To me, you just violated your Oath, which is all about meeting the overarching Preamble Goals.

mariner said...

Too bad failing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution isn't an impeachable offense.

Like hell it's not.

The problem is We the People have been too unwilling to use the impeachment process.

J said...

The problem is We the People have been too unwilling to use the impeachment process.

True. Responsible, Constitutionally-minded politicians would have impeached BushCo in like 2003 or so.

mrs whatsit said...

"This is AF, though. Other branches mmv."

I don't know about the Army, but the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard do the same thing. As it was explained to me, you pay for the first salute, but you earn the rest.

former law student said...

Ah. When Boehner snaps his fingers, CJ Roberts comes running.

Sounds like Alpha hijacked fls' ID.


:)

Sounds like Cheney giving Scalia a ride on Air Force Two all over again. Bonding over poker, sharing a duck blind, swearing in your staff -- it's all pretty much the same thing, right?

Roger J. said...

As I said, FLS--its a military thing and you would, as you have demonstrated, not have the remotest idea of what I was talking about.

and when you have no understanding perhaps it is best to step back from the keyboard and avoid shittinbg all over yourself.

The Crack Emcee said...

He could have discussed his devotion to his marriage from some perspective other than the fact that he'd sworn an oath. Taking an oath to his marriage, after all, is not the strongest reason for staying in it.

So that's what the "good man" didn't do - twice. Meaning he's told yet another lie. Question:

What good is his word - if it's no good to his family?

Such cynicism (if that's what it is) is galling.

former law student said...

roger j says I shouldn't ask about something unless I understand it correctly already.

Gee this is a harsh place.

Mike said...

Hell, I tear up just about every time I say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem (especially when it gets to the "land of the free and the home of the brave")!

Kirk Parker said...

I dunno, FLS, to most people "Shouldn't he have paid you?" will some more like a rhetorical question trying to straighten someone out, not like a simple request for information.

raf said...

The custom at Army OCS (Ft Benning) at the time I was commissioned was for the company First Sergeant to salute the entire company of graduating 2Lts en masse and then collect a dollar from each of us as we filed out of the theater where the graduation/commissioning ceremony took place.

I remember thinking at the time that this cheapened the custom, but I suppose it was inevitable that somebody would figure out how to exploit the situation.

former law student said...

to salute the entire company of graduating 2Lts en masse and then collect a dollar from each of us

For a dollar I'd expect not to have to share my salute.

Duncan said...

Here's the real marital oath from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer the foundation of prayer books in the Anglo-Saxon world:

"If no impediment be alleged, then shall the Curate say unto the Man,

N. WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

The Man shall answer, I will.

Then shall the Priest say unto the Woman,

N. WILT thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

The Woman shall answer, I will."

For those who don't know - the bulk of the population - an Oath is a promise to God and if violated may be punished at his discretion, i.e. Eternal Damnation.