Civics Teacher: Tillis and Burr Are Completely Wrong About the Constitution

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., left, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, walk from a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. Both GOP senators voted against legislation expanding benefits for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals in service. That includes NC vets exposed to toxic burn pits. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

By Kim Mackey

February 9, 2021

A NC educator takes on Tillis and Burr’s argument against former President Trump’s second impeachment.

Last week, North Carolina’s State Board of Education approved new social studies standards, including those written for a high school course on “civic literacy.” 

As former President Trump’s second impeachment trial begins today, North Carolina’s senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, would do well to review these civics course expectations before entering the Senate chamber as jurors in the trial.

From the course objectives, the class should: 

“Exemplify how the constitutions of the United States and North Carolina have been interpreted and applied since ratification.” 

Our US senators should do the same.

Both Tillis and Burr supported a motion last month calling the second impeachment trial unconstitutional. The claim is that Trump is ineligible for impeachment because he is now a civilian.

“This is a civilian now,” Burr said in late January.  “A charge like this would go to the Justice Department and be referred for prosecution.”  

But here’s the problem with that logic. 

Trump was a civilian at the time of his alleged offense.  He was president of the United States. And presidents are civilians

Heaven help us when our senators don’t know this.   

And, should he have concerns about whether or not the former president could stand trial in a criminal court for his alleged misdeeds, Sen. Burr should also revisit Article I, Section 3, Clause 7, of the US Constitution. Impeachment and criminal proceedings aren’t an either/or proposition.

“The Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law,” it reads. 

If Burr truly has concerns that impeachment could make it more difficult to hold a president accountable in criminal court, hopefully this passage reassures him.

In addition to misinterpreting these foundational concepts, Tillis, Burr and some of their GOP colleagues are bastardizing “ex post facto”—a standard that addresses the time frame for which laws may be applied.  

They interpret it as though a president cannot be held accountable through impeachment for actions in the final days of the term because that person would no longer be president during the trial.

By that standard, would Tillis and Burr argue that 17-year-olds who commit a crime shortly before their 18th birthday are ineligible for a hearing in a juvenile court if the trial doesn’t take place while they’re still seventeen?

If Tillis and Burr were so concerned about holding a trial when Trump was no longer president, why didn’t they join others in calling on former Senate leader Mitch McConnell to bring senators back for a special session before President Biden’s inauguration? 

The Senate did not meet after Jan. 6—the day of the Capitol insurrection—until Jan. 19, Trump’s last day in office.

Another one from the NC civics course objectives:

“Locate credible primary and secondary sources”

Tillis, who also labels the second impeachment as “primarily used to disqualify an individual citizen from running for public office,” should consult the annotated Constitution I share with students in my high school Civics and Economics class.

“Put another way,” the note reads, “the purpose of impeachment is to protect the public interest, rather than impose a punitive measure on an individual.”

“Congress should not dictate to the American people who they can and cannot vote for,” Tillis asserted last month.  

Would Sen. Tillis argue that the purpose of a felony trial is to deny voting rights to convicts?

Does Sen. Tillis disagree with the founders when they inscribed in the Constitution that anyone convicted of an impeachable offense shall not be allowed “to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States?” 

What about the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that those who have “participated in rebellion” are ineligible to vote?

Congress did not dictate anything to the American people, Sen. Tillis. The US Constitution enshrined it.

If Tillis is concerned about the consequences of government officials found guilty of an impeachable offense, perhaps he should propose an amendment to change the two sections of the Constitution that reference disqualification from future office as a penalty.

In the meantime, he would do well to follow the Constitution as written.  Indeed, when he was sworn in for his second term last month, he promised to do just that.  That promise should be fresh in his memory even if the text of the Constitution is not.

Here’s another from the course objectives:

“Compare how national, state, and local governments maintain order, security, and protect individual rights”

For folks who hail from the self-proclaimed “law and order” party, Sens. Tillis and Burr seem conflicted about holding a president accountable for inciting an insurrection.

During the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, five people died, including a Capitol police officer.  Many other officers were injured and two have committed suicide in the weeks since.

Just five months ago, both Tillis and Burr sponsored the Protect and Serve Act, which would “create federal penalties for individuals who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.”

When they take their seats for the impeachment trial on Tuesday, will Burr and Tillis protect the president who incited the insurrection or the law enforcement officers defending the Capitol who were victims when the mob arrived to “fight like hell” as the president instructed?

And finally, from the course objectives:

“Organize and take individual or collaborative action in order to effect (sic) change and inform others”

When you reach out to Sens. Tillis and Burr, invite them to think about how future North Carolina students may come to evaluate their decisions in this moment. To what extent will they exhibit the skills and meet the standards expected of high school civics students?

Starting Tuesday, all eyes will again be on the Senate. Unlike the last impeachment trial, hopefully this time our senators will pay close attention and leave the fidget spinners at home.


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