Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a figure well known to Catoites, is among the few members of Congress for whom the description “libertarian” does not seem like a stretch. Chair of the House Liberty Caucus, Rep. Amash is famous not only for his strong stands on behalf of limited government and for leading left-right alliances on such subjects as NSA surveillance but also for explaining publicly the reasons for each vote he takes in the House, which he seeks to derive from the language and principles of the U.S. Constitution.
Inevitably, some Republicans as well as Democrats are not happy with what he’s up to, and financial consultant Brian Ellis has launched a primary challenge against Rep. Amash in his Third Congressional District. Ellis says western Michigan “is not a libertarian district, and I’m willing to stake my campaign on that.” Some GOP businessmen in and around Grand Rapids are backing Ellis’s challenge, though many others side with Amash.
Now the Weekly Standard is out with a piece by Maria Santos profiling the primary fight, which caught my attention with the following quote from Ellis:
“He’s got his explanations for why he’s voted, but I don’t really care. I’m a businessman, I look at the bottom line.” He has no use for Amash’s constitutional scruples, remarking, “If something is unconstitutional, we have a court system that looks at that.”
The first two sentences, at least as I would interpret them, basically amount to: “If you want someone to represent you who votes on principle and can explain his reasons, go ahead and stick with Justin because I don’t intend to decide on votes that way.” But it’s the follow-up that really caught me in mid-breath. As the House Clerk’s site explains, under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, each member of the U.S. House on assuming office takes an oath pledging to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” and to “well and faithfully discharge” the office’s duties. There is a structural reason why the Constitutional oath is required of officers in the legislative branch, and not merely of those in the executive and judiciary. It is that lawmakers are just as capable of breaking faith with the Constitution as members of those other branches. The main way they do so is to vote, knowingly or through inadvertence, for bills that overstep its provisions.
In other words, it sounds as if Mr. Ellis has chosen to kick off his campaign by promising to violate his oath of office.