Tags: naval academy | oath | constitution

What's in an Oath?

What's in an Oath?
United States Naval Academy midshipmen march during the Color Parade in Annapolis, Maryland on May 24, 2018, ahead of the USNA graduation ceremony. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

By Friday, 06 July 2018 12:08 PM Current | Bio | Archive

20 years ago this week, on July 1, 1998, I stood in formation with 1,200 of what would soon become my closest friends in Tecumseh Court, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.

The heat was sweltering, as we sweat under the brand new uniforms we had been issued only hours beforehand. Upperclass Midshipmen circled us like sharks, snarling at us to stand still, but don’t lock your knees. Apparently, locking your knees constricts the blood flow and can cause you to pass out. They kept repeating it like a mantra, almost like they were trying to intimidate us with the idea that even standing still in the military carries significant risks. I wasn’t intimidated and I didn’t pass out as I reached the moment I had been waiting for — the Oath of Office. I was achieving a major goal in my relatively short life, entering the military and serving my country.

The Admiral took the podium and asked us if we would raise our right hands and swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” We all swelled up with pride and practically screamed back at him, “I DO!” A formation of fighter jets flew overhead to mark this momentous occasion.

In the subsequent years, I have reaffirmed that oath many times. A few months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, I was again asked to swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution…against all enemies, foreign and domestic” before being commissioned as an officer and immediately deploying to the war zone.

A few years later, after having left active duty, I found myself starting a new chapter in my life, but in a strangely familiar place, standing in formation, with uniformed men and women circling us and warning us not to lock our knees or we’d pass out. Only this time, I wasn’t joining the military. I was being sworn in as an attorney at the majestic courthouse of the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department. This time, the uniformed intimidators fixated on ensuring that no knees were locked were Court Officers. Then, came the oath of office.

The judges took the bench, asked us to raise our right hands and swear an oath “to support the Constitution…” Support? That’s it? Aren’t we also required to defend the Constitution? What about all of these enemies, foreign and domestic? No, that was it. They only asked us to support the Constitution. I was actually confused by the reduced measure of my new oath.

What does it even mean to support the Constitution without defending it? Miriam-Webster defines “support” as “to agree with or approve of.” So, all attorneys need to do to fulfill their oath is agree with the Constitution, but without any formal obligation to comply with or obey the Constitution? More importantly, is there any obligation to hold others accountable when they violate the Constitution? The answer, as I have seen repeatedly throughout my career, seems to be no.

Although attorneys are licensed by the government, most attorneys are not government employees. As private citizens, there is no affirmative obligation to fight to defend our county’s system of government or constitutional principles.

Shockingly, the same oath applies to most state employees, such as the states attorney generals, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and even judges. This is striking, when you consider that the vast majority of constitutional violations in this country are perpetrated by these state and local officers. How can these people reconcile supporting the Constitution while consistently violating it?

Amid all the calls for criminal justice reform, I believe what we truly need is ethical reform. The best way to fix the criminal justice system is to address the ethics of the attorneys who administer it. Give prosecuting attorneys new goals. Instead of rewarding high conviction rates, instill a sense of doing the right thing. Go beyond just “supporting” the Constitution and make them actually defend it. This principle can also be applied across immigration reform, tax reform, and all other manner of reform being championed today.

I decided to create this blog to discuss current events with an analysis of the applicability of constitutional principles, as well as my experience as a military veteran and trial attorney. The politicians and the news media very rarely scratch the surface of the true legal and constitutional principles that apply to current events because they are more concerned with the political narrative than the actual legality; posturing and soundbites make meaningful discussion impossible. This blog is an attempt to present an analysis of these issues based on the law and free from the political noise.

This blog is constitutional, not political. I am a defender of all constitutional principles, not just those favored by a political party. Therefore, while many of the views and analysis presented in this blog are conservative in nature, they will not fit neatly into any major established political party’s ideology.

Timothy Parlatore is a Navy veteran and prominent trial attorney. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he served as a Surface Warfare Officer and deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He later commanded a Naval Security Forces detachment and worked as an admissions liaison officer for the U.S. Naval Academy. As a partner in the law firm of FisherBroyles, LLP, his legal practice focuses on constitutional issues, white collar investigations and defense, as well as complex civil litigation. He has tried several high-profile cases in New York City and now represents clients in jurisdictions across the country. He brings a unique perspective to issues, that is a blend of his experiences as a military officer and a constitutional lawyer, always guided by his oath to support and defend the Constitution. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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20 years ago this week, on July 1, 1998, I stood in formation with 1,200 of what would soon become my closest friends in Tecumseh Court, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.
naval academy, oath, constitution
Friday, 06 July 2018 12:08 PM
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