In honor of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, I figured I would explain the history of official oaths. Article II of the Constitution, Section 1, Clause 8 states that the President shall take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, but there is no requirement for anyone else to take an oath. Article VI of the Constitution simply states that “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.” When you read the different oaths of office, note that the President and commissioned officers swear to defend the Constitution. Enlisted members swear to defend the Constitution, obey the President, and the commissioned officers. Also note that “under God” is usually appended to all oaths by default, but it is not required. Another side note is that there are two ways to do the oath–by reciting the entire oath or simply by responding “I do” after someone reads it. I highlighted the commonalities amongst all three oaths in blue. I highlighted the parts unique to the military, Vice President, Congress, and civil servants in red.
President: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Officers (and the Vice President, Congress, and civil servants): “I do solemnly swear 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.”
Enlisted: “I do solemnly swear 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; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Title 28 of the United States Code, section 453 prescribes the oath of office for Supreme Court Justices as such: “I do solemnly swear 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 under the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
The interesting thing about this is that the President, the Vice President, Congress, and civil servants all swear allegiance to the Constitution, not the President. Even the Supreme Court swears to remain impartial in support of his/her duties as prescribed by the Constitution.
What does all this mean in scenario where it appears that the President is violating the Constitution? One would hope that the various levels of checks and balances throughout the government would prevent such an occurrence. In other words, the system is designed for such a thing. All that is missing is the leadership and perhaps some patience and understanding from the people in order for the republic to flourish.