What exactly did they promise us?

August 17, 2011 by barbara

barbara writes

Once the campaign hoopla ends and the term of office begins, precisely what do those who were elected to serve this country solemnly swear to do? Nowhere do I see that the oath of office is "hell, no," btw. My follow-up questions appear after the oath of office data below:

Oath of office: U.S. Congress

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.

Oath of office: President of the United States of America

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Constitutional Oath of Office: Its evolution

As noted below in Article VI, all federal officials must take an oath in support of the Constitution:

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

The Constitution does not provide the wording for this oath, leaving that to the determination of Congress. From 1789 until 1861, this oath was, "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States." During the 1860s, this oath was altered several times before Congress settled on the text used today, which is set out at 5 U. S. C. § 3331. This oath is now taken by all federal employees, other than the President:

"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."

Judicial Oath of Office

The origin of the second (judicial) oath is found in the Judiciary Act of 1789, which reads "the justices of the Supreme Court, and the district judges, before they proceed to execute the duties of their respective offices" to take a second oath or affirmation. From 1789 to 1990, the original text used for this oath (1 Stat. 76 § 8) was:

"I, _________, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________, according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God."

In December 1990, the Judicial Improvements Act of 1990 replaced the phrase "according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the Constitution" with "under the Constitution." The revised Judicial Oath, found at 28 U. S. C. § 453, reads:

"I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________ under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God."

The Combined Oath

Upon occasion, appointees to the Supreme Court have taken a combined version of the two oaths, which reads:

"I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________ under the Constitution and laws of the United States; and 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."

Question: What constitutes a domestic enemy? The Tea Party? The Koch brothers? Something to consider….

Question: Who determines “best of my ability” criteria and when? It seems a highly risky proposition to discover after the fact that the president's ability is insufficient for the job, as history so painfully illustrated.

Question: Ultimately, accountability (Supreme Court excepted, in that it has lifelong leeway with no accountability) is via elections. But when egregious actions are taken that seem to fly in the face of these oaths, undermining the country and its Constitution, and in a system that does not allow for national recall, what then? And yes, I am looking squarely at the radical right and its evil twin, the religious radical right.

Sources:

- Office of the Clerk of of the U.S. House of Representatives
- United States Senate web site
- Supreme Court of the United States web site

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Comments

barbara | August 17, 2011 - 2:58pm

Interesting to note the specificity that was lost when the judicial oath was modified. Diluted, one might say.

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