Hank Greenberg: The Oath

Jan 2, 2020

“I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of President Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.''

This is the oath every member of the U.S. Senate will take at the beginning of the impeachment trial of the President. It is a juror’s oath — a solemn pledge to decide a case according to the facts and law, without fear or favor

The two articles of impeachment voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives charge the President with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The President now must stand trial before the Senate.  The Chief Justice of the United States will preside over the trial.

There are few — if any — weightier matters than the potential removal of a president. Nonetheless, the ultimate verdict should be the product of the fair, principled and justice-based decision-making process that is the hallmark of the American legal system.

The rule of law is the foundation of this country.  It is the simple idea that everyone — from the wealthiest and most powerful to the poorest and most downtrodden — is entitled to equal treatment under the law, and that no one is above the law.

This is not a new idea. It dates back to Magna Carta of 1215, when the King of England acknowledged the primacy of established law over royal writ. Some 550 years later, American colonists fought the Revolutionary War against the absolute rule of the British monarch.  The rule of law triumphed over the law of rulers and became the basis for a new nation that became a worldwide beacon of democracy.

The senators who sit in judgment of the President bear an extraordinarily serious and sober obligation. Just like jurors in any trial held on any given day across this nation, the Senators must weigh the evidence presented and apply the law.

Jurors are charged with putting their personal opinions and preconceived notions aside and focusing on the facts of the case before them. Similarly, in a trial involving impeachment of a sitting president, it is paramount that the senators put country over party.  The very rule of law itself is at stake.

If the evidence shows that President Trump committed an impeachable offense, Senators should vote to remove him from office. If the evidence is insufficient, the President should be acquitted. It is that simple.

This is not an idealistic notion.  It is what generations of Americans fought and died for on countless battlefields - from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terrorism.

The impeachment process was not intended to be a purely political exercise. If Senators cast their votes based on partisanship or political bias, they will have violated their oaths and rendered meaningless the Constitution’s impeachment provisions. 

Worse, if the Senate acquits against the evidence and law, if the Senate sanctions proven lawlessness by the President, it will establish a precedent that could transform the very nature of our system of government.

The rule of law is our sacred inheritance.  For the sake of future generations, we must demand the Senators give the full measure of devotion to our founding principles. We will be watching.

Henry ‘Hank’ Greenberg is president of the New York State Bar Association.

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