Do Members of Congress Have a Duty to Interpret the Constitution for Themselves?
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Do Members of Congress Have a Duty to Interpret the Constitution for Themselves?


Today, this goes back I think 40 or 50 years,
the same oath of office is taken by every official of the federal government, except
the President. The wording there is a little bit different,
but the meaning is identical. We have a Constitution. It is our duty to protect it, and our duty
to abide by it. On taking an oath of office, members of the
House of Representatives and the Senators are assuming the obligation to understand
that the authority they have just been granted comes exclusively from the Constitution and,
therefore, is subject to the limits imposed by the Constitution. It was very natural for people in the first,
second, third decades to have to puzzle through themselves to make sure that they were complying
with their oath. But over time, of course, in 200 years, you’ve
covered just about every situation where there might be a constitutional question. It doesn’t mean they have disappeared. The Supreme Court is being asked constantly
to examine a new situation with respect to a specific constitutional provision. Judges are trained to scrutinize and to try
to see what the little differences are that might apply to this situation versus that
situation. That is not part of the training of people
who end up in Congress. There’s always a new application that is not
clearly within the what has been built up over the years. And under those circumstances, I believe there
is an obligation on every member of Congress to satisfy himself that what he’s asked to
do is appropriate. If there are doubts, they have the obligation
to satisfy them, not as they think a judge might in the future decide it, but as to whether
they, themselves believe that the Constitution requires them to act in one way or another. The oath of office commits you to take
the Constitution seriously, to abide by provisions, and not to exceed what it authorizes you to
do. A Senator is supposed to legislate, and that
means you have opinions as to what is desirable and undesirable, and you pursue them vigorously. A judge, on the other hand, has to erase any
particular opinions he has as to what is desirable and undesirable and focus exclusively
on what the law requires. Two different jobs. Totally different jobs.

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