Barack Obama, the Constitution, and that Nobel Prize

Many things are in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes people can see things others can't.

Selective interpretation of the Constitution of the United States without any historical reference or contextualisation is not a new thing. Recently, however, suggestions that Barack Obama could not accept the Nobel peace prize without a vote of congress fell under my eye. This line of attack seems to involve creating suspicion around the acceptance of gifts from foreign heads of state, by referring to the 'emolument' clause.

The clause is to be found at Article 1, Section 9 and clause 8 of the Constitution of the United States. It states;
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.

The Clause illustrates a general point about the constitution, however, which is that it is often ignored or reinterpreted by all sides in a functional fashion. What little academic work there is on it points out that it has been the subject of cases only twice, and then dismissed because those bringing the case did not have the legal standing to do so.

Article V is often treated in this way; there have been hundreds of requests for an Article V Convention from the States to amend the constitution over the years, but Congress has mis-filed or ignored all of them and the Supreme Court won't touch the issue. Equally, it is not clear that the Vice-President should actually be President and serve out a term of office if a President dies or resigns; it is rather that he should exercise the duties of the office until such time as a new president can be elected, which is a different thing. And don't get started on the tenth or fourteenth amendments...unless you want to.

At some point, lines have to be drawn, and they are usually drawn with regard to a practical ethic which is then set in stone as wisdom. Congress has got used to not issuing a declaration of war, for instance.

In the Obama case, nothing is going to happen, any more than it happened to Norman Schwarzkopf when he took a knighthood from the Queen whilst still serving in the military. I'd also question whether the Nobel is an emanation of the Swedish legislature just because it provides some of the judges and is awarded by the King--it clearly doesn't come from either. It would be a neat way for Obama, who is quite a tidy-minded lawyer, to get out of an award, though, assuming that he could trust Congress to do the sensible thing and veto it.

Yep, that's right. The House of Representatives can be trusted with anything at any time.


In this country, which interprets its statutes in much the same way, there has been no prosecution for providing an abortion on demand since 1973, and the law still prohibits all abortions but gives two doctors a legal defence if they procure and perform one; that doesn't stop people from talking of abortion as though it were legal and a right. In another sense, it is. Ironically, one of the few references to the 1973 case (R v Smith(John) 1973 1 WLR 1510) in a subsequent case is that of Sir George Baker in Paton v British Pregnancy Advisory Service. In it, he uses the requirement to deny that a mother or father have any right to stop an abortion that two medical practitioners have certified.

You can't read law as though it were the bible. You can't read the bible, for that matter, as though it were the bible. Otherwise, you end up in an odd, contradictory, and bible-burning sort of a mood, just like the sect in the video below. They live in North Carolina and are, by their own Baptist lights, entitled to burn everything not produced under the aegis of a Scottish bisexual with absolutist tendencies four hundred years ago.

They're pretending that anyone who disagrees with them is a heretic. I mean, how silly. Only people who disagree with the Catholic Church are heretics, unless they are schismatics, pagans, heathens, or mentally ill, like that preacher on a plastic chair on Putney Bridge the other night--do these people not know that? And, before you say it, Jewish people get a pass. God made legally binding agreements with them through (i) Adam (amended) (ii) Jacob (partially enacted) (iii) Isaiah (upheld) (iv) Noah (without consideration) (v)Moses (twice) (vi) Job (alluded or imposed) and (vii) Melchizedek as well as sundry other forms of agreement with various Kings and Prophets and aquatic mammals, including those depicted in the books of Jonah and Job. These were not subject to the Civil Procedure Rules currently in force but still appear to be good law.

The bonfire, on Hallowe'en, ought to be fun.


John De Herrera said…
nice article. please capitalize Article V Convention. it is a proper noun, and it is good to do so in that it helps establish it in a reader's mind. thanks for your writing.
Martin Meenagh said…
I will do, John, Thanks for your comment.
Bill Walker said…
The texts of the 750 applications from all 50 states for an Article V Convention can be read at
Martin Meenagh said…
They can indeed, and I recommend that anyone who is interested in American constitutional law or politics should go and have a look at that blog.

Many thanks for your comment, Bill.

Popular Posts