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  • To Support and Defend: Understanding the Oath of Office

    This Wednesday, all 435 Members of the House of Representatives and the 33 incoming Senators will perform a constitutional rite that harkens back to the country’s founding. “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned,” reads Article VI of the Constitution, “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.”

    The Members of Congress will be sworn in by taking the following 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.

    The constitutionally-mandated oath plays two important roles, as the inaugural essay in Heritage’s new “Constitutional Guidance for Lawmakers” series explains.

    By requiring all Members of Congress—as well as Members of the State Legislatures and all executive and judicial officers—to support the Constitution, the “Oaths Clause” obliges them to observe the limits of their authority and act in accordance with the powers delegated to them by the Constitution.

    In addition, the oath serves as a solemn reminder that the duty to uphold the Constitution is not the final responsibility of the Courts, but is shared by Congress and the President as co-equal branches of the United States government. As Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution stipulates, the President too is bound “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    With a view to helping lawmakers clearly understand their duties and powers under the Constitution, The Heritage Foundation will be publishing several more short essays on key constitutional clauses in the coming weeks. Up next: “Legislative Powers: Not Yours to Give Away” on Article I, Section 1.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to To Support and Defend: Understanding the Oath of Office

    1. Lou Alfano, Pennsylv says:

      In addition to the Constitutional requirement of the Oath of Office, 5 USC 3331 requires ALL Federal employees to take the identical oath. As a retired federal employee, I am still bound by this oath, as it sets no time limits on its "support and defend" and "allegiance" requirements. In addition, because of the oath, I am prohibited from revealing any classified information that may have come into my possession during my tenure. The Heritage Foundation should publicize this employee oath requirement, particularly in these days when so many people treat the oath in a cavalier manner.

    2. Bobbie says:

      We should hear their personal interpretation and where was it learned, so corrections can be made. I mean really, what meaning was the President thinking when he took his oath of office? Wasn't it mentioned he's a constitutional scholar? What constitution? What version? He reflects nothing under the people's Constitution of America but to destroy it's true meaning.

    3. West Texan says:

      Government structure aside, the official oath assigns members to a custodial role of preserving our country's first principles as clearly stated by the U.S. Constitution's Bill of [individual and states] Rights.

    4. and2therepublic, ill says:

      "Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." – James Madison – Federalist No. 10 – November 23, 1787.

      "I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that 'all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution , nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states or to the people.' To take a single step beyond the boundries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition." – Thomas Jefferson – Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank – February 15, 1791.

      "The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation within the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States."

      President James Madison,

      Veto of the Internal Improvements Bill, March 3, 1817.

    5. Kevin Billings Monta says:

      What I want to know is what the consequences to any of our elected officials are if they do not live up to their oath? Who holds them accountable? What is their punishment? Not getting re-elected does not deter them from breaking their oath, and it is certainly not a form of punishment.

      Impeachment? Lose their lucrative pensions? Prison time? There needs to be some teeth in the enforcement of the oath.

    6. sam says:

      There is not an enforceable oath.

    7. Edward MacIsaac, San says:

      If there were any enforcement to this Oath, the majority of the 111th Congress would be looking at some serious prison time.

    8. George (Oldguy), Wes says:

      Kevin… Sam… there are teeth in the U.S. Code. Take a look:

      5 U.S.C. Sec. 3331 01/06/97

      TITLE 5 – GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION AND EMPLOYEES

      PART III – EMPLOYEES

      Subpart B – Employment and Retention

      CHAPTER 33 – EXAMINATION, SELECTION, AND PLACEMENT

      SUBCHAPTER II – OATH OF OFFICE

      Sec. 3331. Oath of office

      Statute

      An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath: ''I, AB, 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.'' This section does not affect other oaths required by law.

      'Any person who shall falsely take the said oath shall be guilty of perjury; and, on conviction, in addition to the penalties now prescribed for that offense, shall be deprived of his office, and rendered incapable forever after of holding any office or place under the United States.'

      18 U.S.C. Sec. 1621 01/26/98

      TITLE 18 – CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

      PART I – CRIMES

      CHAPTER 79 – PERJURY

      Sec. 1621. Perjury generally

      Whoever -

      (1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true; or (2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which he does not believe to be true; is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. This section is applicable whether the statement or subscription is made within or without the United States.

      I'm not an attorney but I think this fits. Lets see if we can find a way to get it enforced.

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