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GeorgeGee's avatar

Why do civil servants solemnly swear to uphold and defend the Constitution, but not the people of the US?

Asked by GeorgeGee (4920points) October 7th, 2010

If it came down to saving all the people in NYC or the constitution, they would save the constitution?

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18 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

I think when they say “Defend” they are talking about the ideals of the document and not the actual document.

john65pennington's avatar

When a civil servant swears to uphold and defend the Constittuion of The United States, they are also swearing to uphold the rights of the people. after all, the Constitution is all about the people and their rights and privacy. they go hand in hand. please, think about it.

FutureMemory's avatar

If it came down to saving all the people in NYC or the constitution, they would save the constitution?

Are you talking about deciding between people being killed vs. protecting the actual physical document(s)?

I can’t imagine any situation where a scenario like that would develop. If you can share with us how this might arise, please do so.

AstroChuck's avatar

Technically I’m a civil servant. I’ve made no such pledge.

lillycoyote's avatar

Swearing to uphold and defend the constitution does not necessarily preclude anyone from saving someone’s life or any number of lives. Most civil servants are bureaucrats. 99% of what they do, we want them to do, I hope we can all agree, in accordance with the law. What exactly is it that you want them to swear to? The constitution codifies law. How and when and where would they find themselves given a choice to save people or to “save the constitution?” Under what circumstances would civil servants be forced to choose between “saving all the people of NYC” and the constitution? Can you explain and clarify please, if you don’t mind?

Nullo's avatar

The Constitution presumably represents the will of the people.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Nullo That is really not the case. The Constitution of the United States does not represent the “will of the people.” The Constitution doesn’t represent anything, it declares it and makes it law. The Constitution is a statement of law, not a representation. It codifies the supreme and superseding “law of the land,” it lays out the structure and form of our government at the federal level, it defines the powers that the federal government has, the structures and powers of the three branches, the executive, legislative and judicial branches, what powers they do and do not have, the powers of the states (10th Amendments issues here), and the rights of the people. That may be an oversimplification but my point, again is that the Constitution does not represent, it makes law. It is the Declaration of Independence that states that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” As important as the Declaration of Independence is, as important as the idea that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” the Declaration of Independence is really more of a “mission statement.” It is not a legal document that binds anyone.

Hobosnake's avatar

presumably, because people have to anyways, whether they pledge it or not, but if we made them pledge it, we’d probably get called fascists.

Nullo's avatar

@Hobosnake You can get called a fascist for anything these days.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

The simplest way I can answer the original question is that those elected to high office: President & Congress, and those appointed to it: Supreme Court Justices, swear an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, which is the “rulebook” that they work under at the Federal level of government. They don’t swear an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” any person or group of people. That’s not the job they were elected or appointed to do. Their work is according to and under the auspices of the Constitution. They aren’t cops, doctors, firefighters, soldiers or Power Rangers. All the oath is, supposedly, is a promise to “work within the existing rules”.

GeorgeGee's avatar

As to the questions about how this would be manifest: granted this is imaginary… but imagine a civil servant who is the best bomb-defuser in the world. We discover there’s a pair of very-hard-to-disable nuclear devices set to go off in 2 hours, one in Manhattan, and one at the National Archives, 400 feet down. The National Archives, by the way, displays the constitution in a glass case that automatically retracts 400 feet down in case of a nuclear attack. I always thought it was ironic that the government would work harder to protect this piece of parchment than the people above, but anyway…
The expert is in Philadelphia and within the time available can only disarm one device before they both go off. Does he go to save the people of NY? or the piece of parchment in the 400 foot deep hole? Does his oath require him to save the parchment?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@GeorgeGee in your highly contrived and perfectly ridiculous scenario… he would go where his boss sends him, I suppose.

lillycoyote's avatar

@GeorgeGee As to the irony, I really don’t think the employees at the National Archives would agree to being kept in glass cases that retract 400 feet underground in case of a nuclear attack so it seems like government’s hands are kind of tied on this one. :-) And I don’t think the oath requiring people to “preserve, protect and defend” the constitution means the actual piece of paper. It’s referring to laws and principles encoded in it, so I’m thinking the guy is going to NYC.

mattbrowne's avatar

Because US citizens have a right to disagree with the Constitution while their actions must not break the law. Civil servants employed by US agencies do not have the right to disagree with the Constitution.

AstroChuck's avatar

@mattbrowne- Just for the record we all have the right to disagree with the Constitution. We just have to abide by it.

mattbrowne's avatar

@AstroChuck – Oh, I wasn’t aware of this. In Germany both soldiers and civil servants have to swear an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. They cannot openly disagree with the Constitution, otherwise they would violate their oath.

Nullo's avatar

You might find the story of the Oathkeepers interesting.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Nullo – Interesting website.

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