Liz Cheney’s important statement about constitutionalism and politics

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.

Cheney avers:

‘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.’

She continues:

‘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.’

And concludes:

‘…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.


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6 thoughts on “Liz Cheney’s important statement about constitutionalism and politics”

  1. It is sad and bizarre that a statement like Liz Cheney’s that, in previous times, would have been obvious to the point of platitude is now seen as controversial or something that needs saying. It was Hume who noted that it is in the nature of mankind that our blind astonishment ever inclines us to yield to the most impudent pretensions

  2. The Republican Party is a lot bigger than Ms Cheney. She is rich and can afford the appearance of constitutionalism, how many of the rest of the Republican Party can afford such noble sentiments is an open question.

    Politics looks a lot like big business and big legal cases – winning is everything – morality and ethics go nowhere. Trump is a big noisy showman who attracts big funding. We shall see how Ms Cheney’s high falutin principles stand up over the next 3 years. Let us hope she can find sufficient numbers of high minded friends.

  3. We live in apathetic times. The excesses of Johnson would have been a source of national outrage and he would have been hounded from office by his own party long before the opposition could have achieved it, but these days, it would seem few care.

    If the US were to allow the lunatic fringe which has taken over the GOP, to somehow overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election, it would not “merely” be unconstitutional, but it would be the spark that ignites a civil war.

    In a democracy, you take the rough with the smooth; despite the lies and folly of Brexit, it got a mandate, those of us who oppose it have a chance to make our case at the next election. But what if there were no next election? If your political views and beliefs become outlawed and some grouping decides that they are now “permanently” democratically elected, can stack the court system and supreme court against your legitimate protests? What is left for you in that case other than to actually fight for freedom and democracy? You need not look deep into history to learn what happens when a democratically elected “leader” decides that he only needs to hear the people speak once: Hitler.

    I have little time for the Republicans, but I applaud Liz Chaney – where did all the sane(r) Tories go at home, I wonder…

  4. “It is not the convention but the fear
    That has a tendency to disappear.”

    from Leap Before You Look by W H Auden

  5. “…the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law.”
    I think the most conservative of conservative values is the preservation of privilege, sometimes called “the order of society”. The law is an useful tool in maintaining that. So I suspect this statement is spoken in a somewhat different dialect from a liberal expressing reverence for the same.
    Many people do seem to be instinctively drawn to populist nationalism. It satisfies certain emotional responses. Without a prominent expression of its danger to their prosperity and liberty, they can seemingly forget about the problems. Back in the cold war, the various evil empires of the world were perhaps such a prominent and constant reminder. Seemingly today’s evil empires are not such an awful warning.

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