According to the media members of Congress of both major political parties are dropping like flies to a fly-swatter in a barn: Sen. Al Franken, Congressmen John Conyers, Ruben Kihuen, Blake Farenthold, Joe Barton, Trent Franks, Alcee Hastings, in the last 30 days. All are accused of sexually abusing women, some recently, some years ago. The Constitution deals with misbehaving members of Congress when followed fully.
Unfortunately, with the disclosure of these seven also came the exposure of the existence of a secret funding source for members of Congress accused of sexual harassment and other workplace discretions created under the Congressional Review Act of 1995. Since 1997, the fund has paid at least $15 million to settle complaints. Congressman Blake Farenthold is the first member of Congress confirmed to have benefited from it, receiving $84,000 in taxpayer dollars in 2014 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit with a former aide. There will be many other disclosures to rise to the expenditure of $15 million. A fund to potentially hide immoral, possibly illegal, activities is completely unconstitutional. It also removes a deterrent to transgression.
So how does the Constitution deal with misbehaving members of Congress? It begins with the morality of the electorate. John Adams, a Founding Father and second president of the United States, identified the first principle of a republic where a king does not dictate good or evil, but the participants in that government bridle their “human passions” through “morality and religion.” Left unbridled, he said, they “would break the strongest cords of our Constitution.” He ended a lengthy paragraph on the topic and said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
At least nine other Founders expressed similar opinions. George Washington in his “Farewell Address” said: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”
In their time, none denied the relationship between morality, religion, God and justice. When morality is situational, as it seems to be for so many today, this link is broken, and people depend upon their own wisdom alone. There is no “appealing to the father of lights to illuminate our understanding,” as expressed by Benjamin Franklin in the Constitutional Convention.
As Washington once said, “Government is like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Unprincipled government can do much damage, as it has to the Constitution for years.
The people expect those they elect to govern to have strong moral fiber and to have their human passions fully bridled. If they are still struggling with the base, hedonistic, animalistic and adulterous elements of themselves, such as is reported of these members of Congress, how can the people expect them to make laws for them based upon righteousness and justice? How can they discern such?
So the first constitutional principle is the election of persons to govern who demonstrate moral fiber. Moral bankruptcy usually starts long before one is a member of Congress. Al Franken demonstrated this lack of moral fiber by his choice of material as a professional comedian. Women complained of the sexually abusive behavior of John Conyers decades ago. Once this behavior is known and confirmed, he should not be re-elected. When the people themselves are morally bankrupt and do not care about the philandering of their favorite, as in the second election of former President Bill Clinton, then such, as Adams said, breaks “the strongest cords of our Constitution.” Returning to the principle of electing only those with strong moral fiber, and zero tolerance for those who do not, will eliminate most, if not all, predatory behavior in Congress.
Once manifested, two parts of the Constitution come into play to isolate the damage. Each House of Congress is to be the judge “of the elections, returns and qualification of its own members” making certain that it is the will of voters and that will was fairly derived,” according to Article I, Section 5, Clause 1. But neither House can constitutionally re-judge behavior that is known to voters and addressed during the campaign after the expression of the people should any of the seven run and win in 2018.
Also, each House may “punish its members for disorderly behavior, and with the concurrence of two-thirds expel a member,” according to Article I, Section 5, Clause 2. In this instance, they deal with behavior occurring after being seated, such as sexual harassment. So let the Ethics Committee of both houses deal with the accused.
But the Constitution has one more check to administer. At least six of the seven accused of sexual abuse face their constituents in 11 months to be judged by them and reseated or not. Their best behavior is likely pending that outcome. Let these two constitutional filters do their work, not media trials that only serve the vengeful and are too politicized to be fair.
If the above does not end predatory sexual behavior in Congress, the Constitution can be said to be broken, as Adams said, at least on curbing the immorality of its leaders. The disclosures are serious; still, we need to be reminded that there are 535 members of Congress and most bridle their “human passions” but the seven, who presumably do not, are seven too many.
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. Newspapers have permission to publish this column. To read more of his weekly columns, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.