6th May 2021
From time to time an utterance by a politician becomes more important than the here-and-now of practical politics.
Such an utterance is an opinion piece in the Washington Post by the conservative congresswoman Liz Cheney.
This blog is written from a liberal perspective, and so there would normally be little if anything that this blog would politically commend about Cheney’s various policy positions.
But this is also a constitutionalist blog, and what Cheney says is spot-on – and it needs to be heard and understood by conservatives in the United States and elsewhere.
‘Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this. The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.’
‘I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law. Each of us swears an oath before God to uphold our Constitution. The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud.
‘The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have.’
‘…if Republicans choose to abandon the rule of law and join Trump’s crusade to undermine the foundation of our democracy and reverse the legal outcome of the last election.
‘History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.’
As this blog has set out before, constitutionalism is about there being constitutional principles that are distinct from and more important than political expediency.
The moment of truth for a constitutionalist is when one sees a distinction between the integrity of the constitution and political advantage and then sides with the constitution.
Constitutionalism is thereby, in this way, about choice.
It is easy – as some fogeys do – to say the words of constitutionalism: blah blah common law rights blah blah Magna Carta blah blah freedom under the law.
It is quite another to elevate constitutional principles above party and partisan advantage in a given practical situation – to say that a course of action should not be taken because it would violate constitutional norms.
One of the more unfortunate features of the authoritarian populist nationalism (and there are other words for it) that has been dominant recently in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere recently, is that there has been no constitutional self-restraint.
Cheney’s article is a reminder that conservatives – as well as liberals and progressives – can take constitutionalism seriously too.
Perhaps the Republican Party will ignore this principled stand – and carry on with its frenzy of Trumpism.
But if that frenzy ever does come to an end, it will be because of warnings such as this from Cheney.
If you value this free-to-read and independent legal and policy commentary please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.
Each post takes time, effort, and opportunity cost.
Suggested donation of any amount as a one-off, or of £4.50 upwards on a monthly profile.
This law and policy blog provides a daily post commenting on and contextualising topical law and policy matters – each post is usually published at about 9.30am UK time – though some special posts are published later.
You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).
This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.
Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.
Comments will not be published if irksome.