You’ve got to hand it to some of the hard-core politicians in Congress; they know how to twist a phrase for maximum traction. Take Nancy Pelosi (please!); who recently said:
“In Congress, there can be no more fitting memorial to the lives lost in Aurora, in Newtown, and across the country than a concerted effort to enact commonsense gun safety legislation. We must uphold our oath to ‘protect and defend’ the constitution and all Americans by expanding background checks and keeping dangerous firearms out of the wrong hands…”
Notice the subtle twist of wording? Article VI, Cause 3 of the Constitution requires: “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….”
All well and good so far, but U.S. Congressmen and women, as well as all military officers must by law take the following oath of office:
“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.]”
Notice that the prescribed oath says “support and defend” the Constitution while Representative Pelosi subtly changed that to “protect and defend;” and not only protect and defend the Constitution, but “all Americans.” Was this merely a simple mistake by a way too-busy Representative, or a deliberate attempt to gain political mileage without (hopefully) anyone noticing? Perhaps she was thinking of the President’s oath, which contains that phrase. Pelosi has taken her oath at the start of each Congress since first taking office in 1987, which amounts to 12-13 iterations of the oath, so the mistake scenario holds water like the folks in those bladder-control medication commercials. Knowing that her prescribed oath didn’t allow her to make her case for gun control, I think Pelosi instead wanted something that sounded “constitutional” to justify her desire to “protect” the American people. Bless her little heart. I mean, who could criticize a Congress-person for wanting to protect us, really?
Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the power to raise an army and maintain a navy but their purpose remains undefined. Article IV, Section 4 charges the “United States” with protecting the individual States from invasion, but protecting States from domestic violence can only be initiated upon the request of the State Legislature or State Executive. The Commander–in-Chief, obviously, has an implied power to protect America and its citizens from sudden attack, no argument. But the day-to-day responsibility of protecting individual citizens has always rested in the police power of the states; and that is where the issue of gun control belongs – at the state level.
One could argue that the Constitution preamble’s goal of “insur(ing) domestic Tranquility” provides that power, but one would be wrong. The preamble to the Constitution grants no power to any of the three branches of government, a sentiment confirmed by the Supreme Court. That didn’t stop former Representative Dennis Kucinich from famously using the preamble as his justification for proposing a “Department of Peace” — but he also was wrong.
Perhaps, in a secret ceremony in the basement of the Capitol building, on a moonless night, cloaked in a flowing hooded robe, Representative Pelosi took an oath to protect and defend the American people. If so, what say we release her from that oath?
So if Rep. Pelosi shows us the wrong way to apply the oath of office, what is the correct way – what does it mean to “support and defend the Constitution?”
Supporting the Constitution means, first and foremost, knowing the document. That must be the primary duty of each citizen: to know their fundamental law. How can you support something you know little or nothing about? But “supporting” also implies more. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “support” as: “To bear, to sustain, to uphold.” To me, “sustaining” the Constitution means promoting the Founder’s view of the document. Upholding means either abiding by it, or else working within the framework the Constitution itself establishes (e.g. Article 5) to change it legally. To me, upholding the Constitution does not mean allowing five unelected government officials, with life-time job security, to modify it based on their whim or political viewpoint.
Defending the Constitution is also an easy one: insisting on the Founder’s view of what was put in place in 1791 — perhaps even defending its principles with your life through service in the armed forces.
But what should you do if, after taking an oath to “support and defend” you are then called upon by some government edict to do something that clearly runs counter to a constitutional principle or clause? For example, if you were ordered to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without due process of law, as some think the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) permits, would you?
The Oath- Keepers movement (http://oathkeepers.org/oath/) is a good place to start if you are beginning to ponder this question.