January 20, 2007

Taking an oath of office with reservations attached.

Here in Madison:
The Madison City Council voted 13-4 Tuesday to offer those taking an oath of public office a formal way to protest Wisconsin's new constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions.

The resolution, passed after 45 minutes of debate, allows officials to make a supplemental statement to the oath that notes they took it under protest because they disagree with the constitutional amendment passed by 59 percent of Wisconsin voters in November.

The statement also says the oath-taker will "work to eliminate this section from the Constitution and work to prevent any discriminatory impacts from its application."

Bert Zipperer, president of the city's Equal Opportunities Commission, which brought the proposal to the council, said the vote was "an act of integrity" that "reflected a sense of hope that was deeply injured in November. This is not to undo the constitution. It's a voluntary statement for justice and liberty for all."

But Ald. Cindy Thomas, 20th District, who voted against the proposal, said the council's action set a dangerous precedent.

"You can't weasel your way out of your oath," Thomas said. "When people from afar hear about our vote on this, we will become a laughingstock."

Okay, people from afar: Are you laughing?

33 comments:

hdhouse said...

well...laughing at wisconsin for passing something like the gay marriage ban in the first place.

observing that this issue appears to be very much a local issue trying to be fixed with a great big band-aide.

suggesting that that might be the real issue here...local standards.
we use it to define obscenity to some extent. we certainly have a host of local rules and laws (blue laws, etc.) ...so you don't want gay marriage in Wausau but its ok in Madison....seems obvious to me.

Anonymous said...

Ohmigod! WTF!
Where is Nurse Ratched when you need her.

John said...

Yes, I'm laughing my ass off. From Indiana. Why don't these fools stop bothering the rest of us and go form communes in the woods or something equally useless? Or possibly take up administrative or faculty positions at a university...

AllenS said...

Well, from up here in Star Prairie, WI, no, we're not laughing. Everyone that I know from around here, considers Madison to be an embarassment.

Pogo said...

I'd respect their integrity a little more if, seeing how they detest the laws of the state, that they refused to accept a paycheck from such a backwards people, or even resigned, instead of holding their noses and promising to thwart the laws they're supposed to uphold.

I see little courage in their actions, just a whiny teenage "you can't make me" response.

Robert said...

It sounds to me like they're conspiring to subvert a lawful part of their duty (to the extent that their responsibilities have anything to do with marriage, which I would assume is minimal).

Disagree, yes; disobey, no.

Meade said...

I, (Madison Bride/Groom), while taking this vow under protest, take you (Madison Groom/Bride), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until we have successfully eliminated the constitutional amendment passed by 59 percent of Wisconsin voters in November, working to prevent any discriminatory impacts from its application until death do us part.

The Drill SGT said...

Yes, I have a problem with weasel worded oaths. Here is the most important oath I have taken:

I (insert name), having been appointed a (insert rank) in the U.S. Army under the conditions indicated in this document, do accept such appointment and 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.

rightwingprof said...

Laughing? No, I'm crying.

Bruce Hayden said...

Love it. "I solemnly promise to obey the laws of the state of Wisconsin that I like". Well, they aren't really going quite that far (leave that to the Michigan folks with affirmative action).

I think that if I were elected to such a post, and chose to list all the laws and parts of the constitution that I disliked, I could be there all day. Not quite sure where I would start - maybe speed limits?

hdhouse said...

maybe prez. bush should empower citizens and particularly elected officials with the ability to issue signing statements. works for him.

Joe Baby said...

Why not just leave blank spots in the pledge...that way the oath taker can just defend whatever they want?

And shouldn't they say something about fair trade coffee? And the situation concerning the Uruzgans?

And nothing about Walmart? They're gutless.

AJ Lynch said...

Well I am near Philly where the amateur comedians are better. This Madison thing is too predictable to be funny.

Heck, Mayor Street just blamed Philly's high murder rate in part on the war in Iraq. Fortunately he said it to the editorial board of the liberal Daily News (similar to your city council I expect) or he would have been laughed out of the room.

Revenant said...

I wouldn't say I'm laughing, but I'm definitely rolling my eyes.

A friend of mine back in high school refused to work at Domino's Pizza because of its ties to pro-life political groups. That was a moral stand. Taking the job "under protest", on the other hand, would have been morally ridiculous.

What these politicians are doing is, in short, swearing to obey the will of the people while simultaneously protesting that the will of the people is stupid and unfair. Um, wouldn't it make more sense to just not take the job at all, then?

vbspurs said...

Pogo wrote:

I see little courage in their actions, just a whiny teenage "you can't make me" response.

Hehe. True.

When an MP takes his seat in Parliament, he must swear allegiance to the Queen, and to her legal heirs, but obviously, this conflicts with many people's convictions of republicanism.

So, whenever Tony Benn or Willie Hamilton took their Oaths, they would do so, whilst stating their opposition as they repeated the Oath.

Now they have a Solemn Affirmation, which sounds not unlike the Oath...

While holding a copy of the New Testament (or, in the case of a Jew or Muslim, the Old Testament or the Koran) a Member swears:

"I…..swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."

The text of the affirmation is: - "I …… do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors according to law".


I suppose it's not just quaint councils in Wisconsin, where dissent is seen as more noble than acquiescence.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

And nothing about Walmart? They're gutless.

LOL!

Cheers,
Victoria

Tim Sisk said...

Yes.

Bissage said...

What I don’t get is why they have to be so outspoken. Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned discretion?

MJ said...

This is your typical Stalinist oath of allegiance to "Progressive Dane". For those of you who don't live here in the People's Republic of Madison, Progressive Dane basically runs the Madison City Council.
You either agree with them 100% or they will seek to politically destroy you.

Anonymous said...

I'd say I'm concerned, not laughing.

Taking an oath of office under protest seems perverse, to me.

Sure, it's something to work against, and it's a pity that it was passed.

On the other hand, it's a pity that people felt it necessary to pass it, given the role that the courts have played in this drama.

I suspect that gay marriage will be the law of the land in most states within a few decades. It'd be nice if we could get there without messing with some of the more important parts of our system.

Harry Eagar said...

Yes, but it's mirthless laughter.

JazzBass said...

Tsk, tsk!

Tut, tut!

ergo cogito doom!

YAMB said...

And how does everyone feel about President Bush's "signing statements" in which he basically annouces that he is free to disregard the law he just signed? Or, Texas' disregard for Supreme Court decisions it doesn't like?

Duck said...

If they supported the constitutional ban, are they allowed to state that as part of their oath?

So much for "power to the people".

downtownlad said...

Well it makes me respect Madison a lot more.

Still wouldn't catch me dead in the bigoted state of Wisconsin though.

Simon said...

If a City Council permitted people who disagree with Article I § 2 of the Wisconsin Constitution ("[t]here shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude in this state") to take the oath of office while reserving that they disagree with §2 and will "work to eliminate this section from the Constitution and work to prevent any discriminatory impacts from its application," would that be considered acceptable?

If you're uncomfortable with the obligations imposed by the office, resign. Then you're free to "work to eliminate this section from the Constitution." But as a public official, you take an oath to the Constituion as a monolithic object: it is whole and complete, and no section of it, duly adopted by the people, is any more or less valid than any other.

Victoria mentions Tony Benn and the oath to the Crown taken by British MPs, but omits an important corollary. Members of the (Northern Irish Republican) Sinn Fein party elected to Parliament found the idea of taking an oath of loyalty to the Crown just as repugnant and onerous as these councillors no doubt find the idea of supporting and defending the marriage amendment. They refused to take the oath of office. As a consequence, they were unable to take their seats. The same should apply to dissenters on the marriage amendment.

paul a'barge said...

Texas is laughing.

Simon said...

YAMB said...
"And how does everyone feel about President Bush's 'signing statements' in which he basically annouces that he is free to disregard the law he just signed."

Signing statements are hardly "President Bush's" - they have been around for some time, and indeed, the classic modern defense of the practise was authored by President Clinton's Justice Department, defending Clinton's "signing statements" (to adopt your scare quotes practise). In general, however, see comments here.

A signing statement does not "basically annouce[] that [t]he [President] is free to disregard the law he just signed," it announces that the Constitution reserves certain powers to the executive branch, and where the law can be construed in such a way so as not to conflict with those reserved powers, the executive branch under the President's superintendancy should so construe it. Properly understood, even if it were true that Bush's use of signing statements was a novel innovation for the executive branch, they would not articulate a new principal of law, because it has long been an accepted canon of statutory construction that "if an otherwise acceptable construction of a statute would raise serious constitutional problems, and where an alternative interpretation of the statute is fairly possible, we are obligated to construe the statute to avoid such problems." INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 299-300 (2001) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

Todd said...

I can't say I'm surprised. I still have vivid memories of watching the council's open session "debating" the '91 Gulf War. More a parade of circus freaks standing up to say how they hated war and the military and a variety of other things, and that Madison should become a draft-free zone and a haven for dodgers. My favorite was the guy with the top hat and gigantic beard who called himself 'Bilbo Baggins.' Not kidding.

Revenant said...

And how does everyone feel about President Bush's "signing statements" in which he basically annouces that he is free to disregard the law he just signed?

What's with the scare quotes? Presidents have been issuing signing statements for nearly two centuries. They have no force of law, so unbunch your panties and settle down.

vbspurs said...

Simon wrote:

Victoria mentions Tony Benn and the oath to the Crown taken by British MPs, but omits an important corollary. Members of the (Northern Irish Republican) Sinn Fein party elected to Parliament found the idea of taking an oath of loyalty to the Crown just as repugnant and onerous as these councillors no doubt find the idea of supporting and defending the marriage amendment.

Quite so.

They refused to take the oath of office. As a consequence, they were unable to take their seats. The same should apply to dissenters on the marriage amendment.

But don't you think this is a simile too far, Simon?

Sinn Fein are the political arm of a terrorist group.

These are trenchant progressives who just want to make a statement.

Of course, it's the slippery slope argument, and I agree that it's difficult to start making exceptions -- which once you do, everyone will want to personalise Oaths, and the like, to better reflect their ideals.

But just because these Madisonians lack a certain sensibility, doesn't mean the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket.

Cheers,
Victoria

Simon said...

Victoria-
I think the situations are comparable: Adams & McGinnis weren't excluded from Parliament after the 1997 election because their party was the political arm of a terrorist group, they were excluded explicitly because they refused to take the oath of office that assuming that seat requires.

If an oath of office is required before assuming office, the oath is taken as it is required, or, surely, the office must be considered to not have been assumed.

Here's the really interesting question: if the Governor of Wisconsin made a similar reservation, would a person convicted under a law subsequently signed by him be able to sue -- in the boldest challenge since Munoz-Flores -- on the grounds that the statute wasn't signed by a legitimately-sitting governor?

R C Dean said...

Are you laughing?

Yes.

Either take the oath (and mean it), or stay home, without your perks and paycheck.