May 17, 2011 § 3 Comments

Every lawyer sworn in on and after July 1, 2011, will have to swear to support not only the Constitution of the State of Mississippi, but also the Constitution of the United States.  Which means that only 193 years and 7 months after Mississippi was admitted to statehood, the lawyers thereof will now be getting around to swearing (or affirming) to support the national constitution.

Here is the oath prescribed in MCA § 73-3-35 as it is pre-July 1:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will demean myself, as an attorney and counselor of this court, according to the best of my learning and ability, and with all good fidelity as well to the court as to the client; that I will use no falsehood nor delay any person’s cause for lucre or malice, and that I will support the Constitution of the State of Mississippi so long as I continue a citizen thereof.  So help me God.”

The code shows the first appearance of the oath among our statues in the 1848 Hutchinson’s Code.  It’s impossible to tell from the currnt code whether the US Constitution ever appeared in the oath, or whether it was deleted.  Legislative history is not included in the judges’ Westlaw subscription — at least mine — so I can’t follow that up.

I am not aware of any requirement that the pre-July 1 lawyers will have to take a new vow vis a vis the US Constitution.  So does this set up the likelihood of warring factions among attorneys with loyalties divided between competing sources of organic law?  Are we to conclude that all pre-July 1 lawyers are exempt from supporting the US Constitution?  No, that would be erroneous, my dear friends.  MCA § 73-7-37 lists among the seven statutory duties of attorneys the duty “To support the Constitution and laws of this state and of the United States,” thus allaying fears of a bar civil war.

In 1945, the president of the Mississippi State Bar, Bidwell Adam, said with respect to the US Constitution, “It is my firm belief and honest conviction that no progress can be made in the direction of undermining this great Constitution … so long as the lawyers of this state and Republic continue to contribute their time, talents, energy, training and experience as its defenders.  Without the lawyers of this state and country, our Constitution would be lost to humanity and decadence would follow.”  Even 66 years ago, the need for lawyers to support the US Constitution was apparent, at least to the bar association.

But why was that particular requirement omitted from the oath and yet enshrined in statute?

The judicial oath of office set out in Article 6, § 159 of the Mississippi Constitution does include both the state and the US Constitution:

“I, ____________, solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties incumbent upon me as ____________ according to the best of my ability and understanding, agreeably as to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Mississippi.  So help me God.”

I am sure there is some history behind all of this.  If anybody knows why the US Constitution was left out of the attorney’s oath, I wish you would enlighten us.

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