Oath Of Office

Defending the Constitution…yes…I believe that that very phrase is somewhere in the oath of office that United States House Representatives and Senators take. Let’s see, oh yes, here it is:

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.

I’m sure the “So help me God” bit will be expunged someday soon.

But the reason I had to look up the congressional oath of office was prompted by a curious statement by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the nonvoting D.C. delegate to the House. I found her quote in this article by Edward Whelan about Eric Holder’s (The US Attorney General) lack of concern about the consitutionality of a bill before congress that would give the District of Columbia a voting member in the House. Of course the Constitution is clear that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States

However, when asked about the possible constitutional issues with the bill, Ms. Holmes had the following to say:

“I don’t think members [of the House and Senate] are in the least bit affected in their votes on the question of its constitutionality. People vote their politics in the House and in the Senate.”

To borrow a phrase used often by George Will (who has written at least one column on this issue):


Of course these shenanigan’s about giving DC voting representation were tried before back in the 70s. But at least then they tried to do it properly – in the form of a constitutional amendment. But as you can probably guess, the proposed amendment failed to be ratified.

So what should we make of the statement by Ms. Norton? I only hope that the voting members of the House and Senate take their oath a bit more seriously than Ms. Norton has been led to believe.


19 thoughts on “Oath Of Office

  1. DC denizens have been denied their inalienable (innate, inherent, intrinsic) rights, as citizens of this nation, to participate equally in the participatory form of government which all other citizens enjoy. They are Governed Without Consent. They seek Equality, Nothing More, and will settle for Equality, Nothing Less.

    They are denied recognition and respect for their inalienable right (which cannot be sold, traded, or taken away — an arbitrary, anachronistic, and artificial provision of the nation’s Constitution notwithstanding) to Consent to the laws under which we all must live, to be heard and counted in the national consensus which we develop via our national legislature.

    Denying DC the opportunity to either grant or withold their Consent over the laws under which we all must live (the same rights exercised by all other citizens in the fifty states) results in the power exerted by Congress and the fifty states over the District being a power both illegitimate and tyrannical. Recall that our Constitution, as originally written, denied exercise of these same fundamental rights to blacks and women, too. We have corrected that over time as we strive for “a more perfect Union.” The task is not yet complete.

  2. CitizenW
    Thanks for the comment.
    It’s hard to know where to start but I will try. First, it’s obvious that you like alliterative phrases as evidenced by your use of “inalienable (innate, inherent, intrinsic)” and “arbitrary, anachronistic, and artificial”. I can only assume use chose the latter three words describing the provision of the Constitution (that requires House members be chosen by the States) solely for their alliterative value because none of those words are actually descriptive of the Constitution. The founders were very deliberate about what they put into the Constitution which, of course is the opposite of arbitrary. Artificial. Artificial in what way? Maybe you could argue that amendments added after ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are artificial in that they were not original. But even that is a stretch and even so we are talking about the original document. Anachronistic t is incorrect as well, since the Constitution is the current law of the land. Whether any of us likes it or agrees with it is beside the point. We can’t just set aside parts of it we disagree with. You may think that the particular provision discussed is “anachronistic”. Maybe I think that the 4th amendment is anachronistic and will just set it aside and come and seize your house and all of the possessions therein.
    You are correct when you say the following: “Recall that our Constitution, as originally written, denied exercise of these same fundamental rights to blacks and women, too. We have corrected that over time as we strive for “a more perfect Union.”
    We have corrected those problems. We did that through the process provided for us by the Founders to correct anything we found lacking in the Constitution: Constitutional amendments.
    Voting rights for blacks and for women were accomplished through amendments, the 15th and the 19th to be specific.
    So, while I understand your emotion and passion, I would humbly suggest that you try using reason. If DC citizens want to be represented in the House they need to back an amendment and, through reasoned argument, convince the states to ratify it. Arbitrarily (to use one of your words) throwing out provisions of the Constitution is not the way to do it.

  3. Thanks for your comment. Let me clarify what I meant. Liek you, it is hard to know where to start, but here goes.

    Arbitrary, anachronistic and artificial were meant to refer to the so-called “District clause”, which closely resembles the Declaratory Act of 1766 (qv), in that, in both cases, a national legislature unwarrantedly attempts to arrogate to itself Absolute Power “in all cases whatsoever” over an unrepresented minority of the population. This is in complete conflict with the bedrock fundamental principle of participatory government, that all just, ie “legitimate” power flows from the Consent of the Governed. Madison, Franklin, and Mason, among others, all recommended that we, in pusuit of a more perfect Union, make frequent reference to fundamental first principles.

    “Prudence, indeed, will dictate, that governments long-established, should not be changed for light and transient causes…” DC denizens have tried many avenues to get our countrymen to allow us our inalienable right to participate in our country. Inalienable is a big word, not always well understood. Glad you noticed the alliteration, but I believe the words are all pretty close synonyms. The alliteration is convenient, though, because it helps make them memorable as well.

    As for arbitrary, artificial and anachronistic — in the day, a ten-mile-square amounted to a protective buffer amounting to an hour or two of travel/communication by the most common and fastest means of travel, horseback. Were we to match it with today’s most common method, the buffer would be an hour or two by car — say 50-100 miles? Not to mention planes, trains, computers and internet, satellites, faxes, phones, TV…etc. , all of which make personal proximity much less influential than it may have been back in the day. Artificial, in the sense that a ten-mile square in the heart of say, St. Louis, would serve the purpose as well. Anachronistic also in that the Federal governement is no longer a weak organization requiring a buffer for protection; they have a small army (around 2,400) in the Capitol Police, who knows how many in the Secret Service, GSA Protective Service, etc., not to mention the Marine Barracks, Fort Myers, etc, etc, etc. And MOST of the influential government officials, such as Congress and their staff, who could rightfully be felt to have undue influence through both their position AND their vote, live in Virgina suburbs and Maryland suburbs, anyway. Leaving largely ordinary Joe Schmo citizen/denizens living in DC proper.

    I will agree, a Constitutional amendment is the most proper way to address this. It should address the portion of the District Clause dealing with DC. Since Maryland will not accept retrocession, your mission is to either change their minds, or revise the District Clause to make it necessary for Congress, when overiding DC laws, to provide evidence of a compelling national need by passing such over-riding legislation by a super-majority. The gold standard for all citizens of the fifty states is that they are allowed to vote for five national office to represent them: President, Vice-President, Congressman, and two Senators. Even citizens of the United States living abroad are allowed to continue to vote in the state of their last residence, no matter how long thay have been gone, nor whether they have any intention to ever return. DC denizens seek and deserve Equality, Nothing More, and will settle for Equality, Nothing Less.

    Unfortunately, denizens of DC (outnumberd by our countrymen, 600-1) have no role in Congress (neither voice in the Senate nor vote in the House), no role in the Courts (no input into either their operations nor the laws they interpret), nor even any participation in the Constitution itself, since 1801 (Amendments 12-27). So if ANYBODY is going to change YOUR Constitution, it will have to be the people of the several (50) states.

    We DC denizens will not accept being evicted from our own country any longer. We BELONG to this nation, not in the sense of chattel property, but in the sense of full and equal membership.
    It is time our countrymen came to that realization.

    “Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our [American] brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, …. hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

    It need not come to that this time.

  4. Let me summarize. The District Clause may be “Constitutional”, but by its very nature it attempts to exert an unwarranted Absolute Power over unrepresented people, that, in the paradigm of participatory goverment in which we purport to operate, is both illegitimate and unconscionable.
    The ball is in YOUR Court (literally and figuratively, since DC has had no say in the makeup of the courts or the COURT since 1801).

  5. “We can’t just set aside parts of it we disagree with. ”

    Our social contract provides that we go along with the consensus of the majority (with certain rights of the minority protected – a la the Bill of Rights). The presumption is that the consensus is a true consensus – of the people, by the people, for the people…ALL the people. Should we be bound by a consensus arrived at while we are deliberately and persistently excluded?

    “Equal laws protecting equal rights are the best gurantee of loyalty and love of country.”
    J. Madison to Jacob de la Motta, August, 1820

    When, circa 1770 we as a nation began to throw off the yoke of monarchy and aristocracy, we declared “all men are created equal.” By which we meant, at the time, that not just royalty, clergy and nobility had a say in making the rules by which we all must live, but every (property-owning, white, male, over 21) man. Somewhat-less-than-fully-human non-whites and females not included. When our noble but limited concept was challenged by blacks and women, we grudgingly agreed to define as human and deserving of equal consideration even non-whites and women; non-whites won equality by count after about 50 years, in 1820, with the Missouri Compromise; equality by vote(de jure, anyway if not de facto), came later, after fifty more years and a bitter civil war, in 1870; women won an equal vote fifty years later, in 1920; young adults won equal votes in 1970, fifty years later. As we continue to live out the true meaning of our creed, “that all men are created equal”, the next fifty year milestone arrives in 2020. I hereby nominate for equal representation the long-suffering denizens of DC.
    There, now it’s official. Satisfied? 😉

  6. DC denizens are outnumbered roughly 600-1 by their countrymen – so, once I have persuaded you to live up to the true meaning of the creed, “all men are created equal”, I only have about 300 or so left to persuade, to achieve a majority…oops, but ratification of an amendment to YOUR constitution so that we can be allowed to participate in our own country again takes 3/4 of the states, doesn’t it? Hmmm, that means I have about 450 left to persuade. Better get busy, hadn’t I?

    See this is why, instead of addressing attempted limitations a basic human right like voting (expressing our consensus) in a piecemeal fashion, with amendments fifteen, nineteen, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-six, et al, we need to deal with the issue definitively.

  7. Holy Cow! I have approved all of your comments even though I have not had the time to either read or digest all of them. I’ll try to get a response up today or tomorrow.

    I will say that there is another alternative to the Constitutional amendment route that I failed to mention before. Move to one of the adjoining states. I work for the Federal government and know plenty of people who live in MD or VA and commute to DC. The bottom line is that regardless of how unfair we might think it is, we all have to play by the rules.

    Also, I’m curious to know if your obvious passion for voters’ rights extends to Puerto Ricans?

  8. The old “move” argument. You can do better than that. Its a waste of my time responding, but here goes anyway.

    If I were to move (and by the way, I also own houses in Virginia and West Virginia), that still leaves over half-a-million DC denizens whose inalienable rights continue to be disrespected and go unrecognized. If DC were intended to be a de-populated wasteland, the Constitution (your Constitutionn not mine, I’ve been excluded!) would have said so.

    Voting rights cannot be denied based on race, gender, or age, but they can and should be denied on the basis of ZIP CODE? Come ON!

    Only the most compelling reasons can be justified
    for excluding persons for voting… and “because we say so” doesn’t count. I’d like to hear a current cogent argument for creating a district
    with no voting rights and no local autonomy, one not based on “because we’ve always done it that way” or “to protect our fragile central government”. Violating the fundamental principle of “Consent of the Governed” should occur under only the MOST stringent, compelling circumstances, and only when no lesser methods suffice.

    For example, I would agree to a compromise that leaves the Federal “last word” authority of the nation as a whole over the District in place, if it were able to be exercised ONLY when a clear national consensus existed that it was essential, which consensus was supported by the same threshold level of agreement which must be met by DC getting admitted BACK into the Union: a 75% supermajority vote. Other than that, DC should be allowed to run it’s own local affairs like any other jurisdiction, without interference. And Congress could still exercise that authority while DC had voting representation IN the Congress. There is no legitimate reason (let alone a compelling one) for denying representation. I would even compromise and allow individual DC residents to register and vote as if they were citizens living abroad, in any state of their choice, maybe allowing a change in choice at each census.

    DC was a part and parcel of the original thirteen colonies, progeny and posterity of the Founders, for whom the Founders pledged their Lives, their Fortunes, and their Sacred Honor to secure Liberty. The same cannot be said of Puerto Rico, nor, for that matter, of Alaska, Hawaii, or even Wyoming. Which by the way, is smaller in population than DC, and is grossly over-represented, with two senators for less than half a million population, versus California with two senators for over 25 million population — a 50 to 1 disproportion in representation.

    Brainstorming here. I’d even go for combining Wyoming and DC (Wyombia?), to correct for disproportionate representation. 😉

    It’d be a good partisan compromise, too. Deep red Wyoming and deep blue DC make deep purple Wyombia. 😉

    As for Puerto Rico, if they vote to be admitted, and are willing to pay federal income tax, and meet the criteria for admission as a state, sure, they should have a vote just like Hawaii and Alaska. Their population is considerably larger than both states combined.

    And I could even go for Hawaii annexing all the Pacific Islands to create a state of Pacifica. Hawaii is pretty small too, and needs to bulk up.

    Vermont is also too small, and should re-join New York. The state should be called Dakota. And Carolina. West Virginia and Virginia should bury the hatchet. Can we take the Louisiana Purchase back for a refund? We could probably make a nice tidy profit (and a real dent in our deficit) if we sold Alaska back to Russia. If we could get China bidding we might do even better. We could trade Texas back to Mexico for 100-years of Mexican oil. 😉 Maybe we could even entice the UK and Canada to join and end up with an even 100 states! United States of the A&P (Atlantic and Pacific!) 😉

  9. “The bottom line is that regardless of how unfair we might think it is, we all have to play by the rules.”

    I’d say forcing YOUR rules down somebody else’s throat is, well, yes, unfair, but also, and more importantly, unprincipled. See above about developing a “real” consensus, where EVERYONE gets to participate, and none are arbitrarily, artificially, and anachronistically excluded. 😉 Once there is a REAL opportunity for all voices to be heard equally and all votes to be counted equally, we’ll all live happily (more or less) with the REAL consensus. 😉

  10. BTW, let me know if and when you’ve been persuaded. I really DO have to move on to persuading another 449 of my countrymen to meet my personal quota. 😉


  11. What a country! Where else in the world is “exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever”, exercised by a body of legislators elected by people from elsewhere, imposed on a community, in perpetuity …and called “Liberty”?

  12. “If DC were intended to be a de-populated wasteland, the Constitution (your Constitutionn not mine, I’ve been excluded!) would have said so.”

    Actually, the founders didn’t forsee people taking up residence in DC other than legislators and their staff. George Washington wanted a national university there but even then, students would just be temporary residents. Hell, back then all federal jobs were distributed by the spoils system so everyone in the town would be there temporarily. This is a perfect example of unintended consequences. Because the founders didn’t forsee DC becoming a residential community we now have people living there that aren’t represented in congress.

    I’ve never said that I’m against people in DC being represented; just that it needs to be done the right way – through an amendment.

    And of course the main purpose of my post wasn’t really the DC thing but rather that representative Holmes was way off base by saying that constitutionality should have no bearing on whether or not a bill should be passed.

    So you never had to persuade me that the citizens of DC should have representation. They should, but we shouldn’t throw the law out the window to get it done.

  13. Dont buy that, at all. Even Madison said,

    “[A]s it is to be appropriated to this use with the consent of the state ceding it; as the state will no doubt provide in the compact for the rights, and the consent of the citizens inhabiting it; as the inhabitants will find sufficient inducements of interest to become willing parties to the cession; as they will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them; as a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them; and as the authority of the legislature of the state, and of the inhabitants of the ceded part of it, to concur in the cession, will be derived from the whole people of the state, in their adoption of the constitution, every imaginable objection seems to be obviated.”

    I repeat here the following: “as the state will no doubt provide in the compact for the rights, and the consent of the citizens inhabiting it;”

    Unfortunately the state(s) did NOT provide for the rights and the consent of the citizens inhabiting it. Maryland and Virginia sold their infant(s) down the river. Virginia repented and took back it’s child. Maryland has maintained a state of studied indifference if not hostility toward the idea.

    But the founders DID envision inhabitants, they just apparently had a more compelling purpose at the time, which was creating a protective buffer around a then-fragile central governement. That argument, that purpose, no longer holds. It is nowhere nearly sufficient to justify witholding the opportunity to participate and expres consent from over half- a-million citizens . There are much better ways to accomplish that “buffer” effect ()to the extent that it is needed). But DC citizens, not allowed to particpate in national affairs, cannot get any traction without the principled support of our fellow citizens living in the 50 states. And that has been sadly lacking, because apparently many Americans are unfamiliar with the meaning of the term “principle”.

  14. The above passage from Madison is clear evidence that he knew the District would be populated. Even more, it is clear evidence that he knew the entire situation was problematic. The passage is basically Madison trying to justify (to himself?)a situation that he clearly realizes was/is a sunversion of the principle of Consent of the Governed..

    Droit du Seigneur is anachronistic. DC is tired of the rest of the country holding us by the balls and squeezing any time they feel like it. We refuse to be poitical eunuchs at the American Royal court anymore. DC will not stand for being Desmesne of Congress. We were born free people, as free as our countrymen.

    Eleanor Holmes Norton is no more off-base by noting the reality in Congress that politics supersedes constitutionality, than the congress and the country are by ignoring the very principles upon which that Contitution was based.

    DC has no senator to introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would provide for a DC vote….and there lies the root of the problem. DC has had no input into the Constitution since Amendment 11. If the problem is to be solved, it requires our countrymen in the fifty states to take ownership of it. That involves something entirely different than just criticizing from the sideklines. It requires direct, proactive effort to CHANGE the situtation. Until then, the DC situation remains an American sham, and an American SHAME. Americans who are not shameless would insist that there representatives address this situation.

  15. Wow! I want to thank you two: I have done more reading about the District of Columbia than I ever thought possible or necessary.

    To the one who says it’s not his constitution because he chose to live in the only federal district, distinct from the states, serving as the permanent national capital, get over it. As pointed out an ammendment to the constitution could change that but as also pointed out that probably will not happen. You could live in any of the fifty states or since it is not your constitution just move to another country you could call your own. Try Somolia; they don’t have a constitution. You could try writing your own.

    I also understand that to some of the folks that live in DC that this is a very troubling issue. To most of the rest of us it is not and in fact is pretty logical to have a federal district (non-voting) for the nation’s capitol.

    Again, thank both of you for your view points.

  16. I normally worry that I am being too verbose, and therefore attempt to limit my comments somewhat. Apparently that is not an issue here. So, here goes. These comments are generally aimed at ‘citizenw’.
    First, as Stand To pointed out, I feel there was intent in the design that left the denizens of DC without a Representative, or Senator. The idea behind this was that by not including the District of Columbia in a state, they were removing it partially from the political process and would keep the area from feeling beholden to any particular state or the popular political trends therein. It was rightly felt that such an atmosphere would be unhealthy and promote graft, something that we already have more than enough of.
    To invest the citizens of the District of Columbia with a number Representatives (they would insist on equal representation in accordance with population, of course), and two Senators, as citizenw desires would, in effect, create a new state. The purpose of the two house system in which one is populated by representatives based on percentage of population, and the other populated by senators based on geographic areas is to strike a balance between the two and thus prevent a tyranny of the majority or a tyranny of the minority. This protects urban and rural citizens from driving their agendas at the expense of each other. If the District of Columbia were given representation equivalent to a state, this would be contrary to the intention of this balance. Should all cities of decent size be given their own set of Senators? Of course not.
    I noticed that citizenw failed to mention that the tax burden that pays to keep the District of Columbia running is provided from revenues derived from the 50 states. Is D.C. prepared to foot the bill for its own existence? Can it provide all of the infrastructure necessary to keep a city of its size running? Is there enough private industry outside of the Federal Government to provide a tax base to run schools, repair roads, and provide necessary emergency services? I doubt it.
    I agree with Stand To and JJackso on another point. I choose not to live in D.C. I could, and if I did, I would give up my right to have a representative if I did. You choose to stay there, and therefore you choose to maintain the fact that you do not have a vote for a representative. If you do not like it, move.
    For your information, by the fact that you were born into the United States, you are a citizen. The Constitution is as much yours as it is mine. If you do not like it, there are remedies to your situation. First, you can change the Constitution, as has been mentioned. Second, you could move to another country that will allow you to become its citizen, and give up your U.S. citizenship. Then you will be happy because it will not be your Constitution anymore. Or third, you can take the remedy recommended by Stand To (funny).
    The fact is that you do have the vote. You are allowed to vote for local city officials who maintain the general workings of the area, and you are allowed to vote for President, the most powerful person in the land. To say you have no voice in the courts is ludicrous. The President nominates federal judges (you can vote for him). These judges are appointed for life to their positions with the express desire that this will remove them from the effects of the political process and allow them to make impartial rulings.
    Speaking of local D.C. politics, you have shown how well you use the votes that have been given to you in the past by electing, and re-electing your crack-head ex-mayor. That is some impressive use of the suffrage that has been provided to you.
    I have a final question for citizenw. Assuming my argument is true, and the founders desired to keep the nation’s capital removed from politics by not allowing it to have the governmental voice provided to a state, would you be willing to give up the stewardship of our nation’s capital in order to attain that representation? If the answer is ‘yes’, I would argue that the only solution is for you to move. The nation has already been down the road of compromise that led to the creation of a separate district to use as our capital. It was established for our use before you ever decided to live there. It should not be incumbent on us to have to repeat the process somewhere else in order to make you happy. Pursue your happiness…somewhere else (stupid assed smiley face emoticon).

  17. Damn!
    This blog is named appropriatly because my head just exploded!

    I got severe tired head and need to sleep this one off.

  18. Gee, “Man”, I’m sorry, really! 😉
    But not THAT sorry. 😉 Here goes again.

    Retrocession to Maryland arguably requires agreement from both Congress and Maryland. Maryland has shown no interest in this proposal over the last 200 plus years. However, there ARE ways to accomplish the goal otherwise.

    There are two parts to DC’s current exclusion and subjugation under the (benevolent?) tyranny of our countrymen: exclusion from participation in national affairs, and lack of local autonomy.

    Here’s a couple of suggestions:

    1. Take whatever steps would be needed (constitutional amendment?) to allow individual denizens of DC to affiliate themselves with a state (much as other expatriate American currently do for voting) and vote absentee in that particular state. Each DC resident could declare affiliation/affinity with a state, for example, at the time of each Census, and the individual’s affiliation/affinity would be fixed on that state for the next 10 years, or until actual residence outside DC were established.

    2. Establish/clarify that Congress’ specific power over DC “in all cases whatsoever” would require a supermajority vote of both Houses and signature by the President, prior to going in to effect. Unless such provisions were met, DC would, as would each state, be responsible for their own affairs.

    I believe this would satisfy the desire (if somewhat partisan and unprincipled) of Republicans to deny DC citizens the vote unless the (Democratic) effect of such votes were minimized, and yet would meet the bare minimum desire of DC residents to equal treatment under the law.

    It would also at least minimally satisfy the fundamental first principle and central premise of our nation, that “just power derives from the consent of the governed”, a principle that has until now been honored only in the breach with regard to DC’s denizens.

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