Dear Members of Congress:
Each one of you who serve in Congress took an oath:
”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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.”
A Promise to God
You promised us –you promised God—to defend the Constitution.
An oath is supposed to mean something. In our civilization, an oath is understood to be
“a special appeal, an expression of sincerity backed up by the threat of divine retribution should the uttering prove false–hence the term ‘oath-breaker’. An oathbreaker was assumed to have committed a crime against God or of some divine entity, which would lead to damnation or another form of severe penalty.”
Did you take your oath seriously? Or were these just meaningless words you spoke so that you could step into your position of power?
From some of you, we sometimes hear the expression “God-fearing,” but can anyone who can swear on the Bible “So help me God,” without meaning what he says, be God-fearing?
The Constitution Now Needs Defending
Most of the time, that oath of office does not require the Members of Congress to do much. That’s because the Constitution doesn’t generally need defending.
But has there ever been a moment in American history when the Constitution has needed defending more than now?
Has not a disturbing pattern emerged? From what we reliably know, and from what the administration itself has disclosed, is there not already discernable a pattern of disregard for the law and of presidential power-grabbing?
We see this in the warrantless searches; in the apparent practice of torture; in “signing statements” numbering over 700; in the deception of Congress on vital national issues, including matters of war and peace; and in the succession of bogus arguments advanced by this administration to justify its usurpation of power and its assault on our system of checks and balances.
Is there not more than enough evidence to require you at least to suspect that the Constitution stands in need of defense? Yet you are not rising to its defense.
Would not a Congress that kept faith with its oath of office at least be seriously investigating this apparent assault on the Constitution? Yet serious investigations have not been conducted, and indeed have been repeatedly blocked.
But really, on some matters, there’s grounds for more than mere suspicion. The American Bar Association felt it had enough information, for example, to declare unequivocally that the administration violated the FISA law. Moreover, this administration has advanced claims –in written documents, and in public statements-- that it doesn’t have to obey the laws passed by Congress. And it has declared that itself not subject to judicial oversight. If such claims are not an assault on the Constitution, what would be?
Under these circumstances, your failure to defend the Constitution, after taking such an oath, is simply dishonorable.
What Honor Requires
The oath you take is directly descended from such oaths of fealty as knights took to defend the King. Such oaths left no room for anything to take precedence over doing one’s utmost to protect one’s lord. Not just when it’s convenient, but whenever it’s needed. Not just to the extent that’s comfortable, but all-out, even at the cost –if necessary—of one’s life.
To betray such an oath was to forfeit all honor, to be faithless and worse.
Your oath puts the Constitution in the place of the King. The pledge remains one of the highest moral and legal seriousness. It is said:
“It is often considered a treasonous or highly illegal offense to betray one’s oath of office”
You’ve been entrusted by the people of the United States with the defense of our American birthright to live in a free society under the rule of law. Have you considered that your betrayal of that trust –in failing to rise to the defense of our American constitutional democracy—might reasonably be regarded as treason?
The Oath Does Not Allow You to Weigh the Cost
An honorable person, taking an oath –like the knight who swears to protect the king—risks all to fulfill his oath. But you –members of both parties—are treating other considerations as more important.
Those of you who are Republicans face a political difficulty in that the assault on the Constitution comes from a president of your own party. It’s not easy opposing your own party’s leadership.
But your oath gives you no honorable choice but to defend the Constitution. It does not allow you to defend such a president against the Constitution. It does not allow you to yield to the temptation to ingratiate yourself with power at the cost of the Constitution. You are obliged, by that oath, to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Even if that risks your losing your present proximity to great political power.
Those of you who are Democrats seem to have judged that you will pay a political price if you make too big a stink about the fact that this presidency is dismantling the Constitution and the rule of law. You may be right about that (though I doubt it).
But it doesn’t matter whether your fears are well-founded. Your oath does not say you’ll defend the Constitution only when it is politically expedient. The pledge is unqualified. Just as the honorable knight is prepared to die, if necessary to defend the king, so your oath obliges you to be ready to commit political suicide if that’s what the fulfillment of your sacred pledge requires.
Even those among you who have come closest to fulfilling your oath have not done so adequately. Not if the pledge to defend the Constitution is understood, like the knight’s oath of fealty, to require one’s utmost efforts. It is not enough, for example, to just introduce, in a gentlemanly way, a motion of censure—and then walk away. The knight does not just walk off the battlefield leaving his weapon behind. That is not defending the Constitution to the utmost of your abilities. If your colleagues do not rise to support your motion of censure, your oath requires you to exert yourself more strenuously and escalate your approach. Pick up your weapon (that motion of censure), raise your voice a notch, and make your colleagues’ failure to support it –i.e. to fulfill their oath of office-- the issue.
Is there a one of you who has fully honored the oath you took? Have you not all shirked, placing personal considerations ahead of your pledge?
What This is About
The true issue is not just that you took this oath. It’s about what’s behind the oath—behind your being required to promise to defend the Constitution.
This is not ultimately even about the Constitution. It’s about what the Constitution is about. And what the Constitution is about is the prevention of tyranny.
There is a reason this country’s Founding Fathers made the defense of the Constitution the heart of the oath of office. They understood that the natural tendency of political systems is to descend into tyranny and into all the nightmarish corruption and destruction of human dignity and rights that tyranny brings. And their genius lay in constructing a system of protections against that natural downhill slide toward tyranny.
It’s because they understood that their handiwork –the Constitution—is the necessary bulwark to preserve the blessings liberty for their heirs that they composed the oath of office as they have. By that oath, they sought to bind you, our leaders, to perform the vital task of protecting us, as a free people, against the unchecked power of the tyrant.
Your Choice: Which Will It Be?
But the oath does not enforce itself. It requires either your honor in fulfilling your promise, or our wrath in driving from office those who break their oath.
We, the undersigned citizens of the United States, would like to ask you: Which will it be? Are you going to confront this apparent pattern of presidential lawlessness by conducting investigations and following them wherever your oath of office may require you to go? Or are we going to have to find other political leaders to protect our freedom under the rule of law?
[Readers are encouraged to circulate this open letter as a petition to Congress.]
Andrew Bard Schmooker is the creator of the Web site www.NoneSoBlind.org. His lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Email to: email@example.com.