Political Hay

The Virginia GOP’s “Loyalty Oath”

This from the home of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison?

By 11.28.07

Send to Kindle

Yesterday morning I spilled coffee all over my suit when I spied the following tidbit in the paper (Washington Post, 11/28/07, page B2): "Loyalty Oath Will Be Required."

It seems that the Republican Party of Virginia, home to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, has prevailed on the State Board of Elections (SBE) to mandate that GOP primary voters must "sign an oath swearing loyalty to the eventual GOP ticket." All who apply for a GOP primary ballot must "vow in writing to vote for the Republican presidential nominee next fall."

Given the state party's legitimate concern with an open primary and no party registration, simply requesting primary voters to certify or swear that they are Republicans would be a workable solution to the problem. It would be just as effective in reducing Democratic cross-over voters as would seeking an open-ended commitment to an indeterminate general election slate.

As a third-generation Republican, and the father of a fourth, I was taken aback by this news and have since sent an e-mail to the SBE seeking redress (If you are so inclined, e-mail to info@sbe.virginia.gov).

A search of the websites of both the SBE and the Republican Party of Virginia failed to locate a copy or text of this so-called "loyalty oath."

What is pretty clear is that the SBE is going to lose the inevitable lawsuit on this matter, and it should. This oath is an unconstitutional infringement on any GOP voter's right to vote given that it extracts a promise to vote in the general election for candidates unknown and unknowable as of the primary election day. Even if the oath is construed to require simply "loyalty," rather than an actual vote, it is an affront to private thought and conscience.

Moreover, it probably violates the voter's First Amendment rights for a host of reasons. But try this one on for size: suppose a Catholic Republican, i.e., me, has to face the choice of voting for the former Mayor of New York City or the Senator from the State of New York. Given that both candidates have, well, let's just say problematic positions on the right to life and the integrity of the family, the moral imperatives may demand writing in another worthy candidate for president.

I don't know what I will do if I have to face that decision. But I do not need to be hectored into a commitment as early as the primary election in the Old Dominion. This campaign has a long way to go, and I should have the benefit of the extended debate that comes with a long political season.

This loyalty oath also contradicts Republican principles. It robs the political process of any incentive or competition to nominate the best available candidate acceptable to the widest of Reaganite coalitions. It stipulates an outcome rather than trusting to the wisdom or judgment of individual party members. It gives the party a free pass on producing quality candidates for the voters' consideration.

There are two responses to my objections that I have already heard. First, the oath is secret and, therefore, unenforceable. Second, nobody really cares. So just sign it anyway.

That's great. Giving one's oath or word of honor should not be a meaningless gesture. If it is, one is not trustworthy, without honor, and a liar.

Presumably, the Virginia GOP believes in personal integrity, and that its decision to require such an oath was an error in judgment rather than a moral lapse.

The SBE should seek legal counsel on this matter. Better yet, it should exercise prudential judgment and reconsider its decision pronto without recourse to lawyers.

Traditionally, the GOP was the party that valued personal liberty, free from politically correct thought control. Hopefully, the Virginia Republicans will recover that tradition before the primary election this way comes.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.