The Constitutional Marriage of Personality and Impersonality: Office, Honor, and the Oath
33 Constitutional Commentary __ (Forthcoming)
11 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2018
Date Written: June 2, 2018
This short piece is written for a symposium on Randy J. Kozel’s 2017 book Settled Versus Right: A Theory of Precedent. It is part of a larger project on honor, oaths, and the Constitution. One key element of Kozel’s book is its identification of “impersonality” as a central good served by precedent. Assuming impersonality to be such a good, one can recognize that it is a hard goal to achieve in the face of contrary pressures. A source of motivation, energy, and agency is needed to fuel the judge’s efforts to achieve impersonality.
In our constitutional culture, a troika of three interrelated concepts or institutions provides this motivation: The office, honor, and the oath. Together, they provide a sense of duty and constraint in filling a specific office; a sense of honor that encourages the office-holder to fulfill that duty, by creating both a desire to be well-regarded by one’s peers and an internalized sense that one ought to behave in a way that merits high regard; and, through the oath, a connection between the individual and the office, and between the office-holder and the commitment to act honorably in office. In short, this troika provides a deeply personal wellspring for the commitment to “impersonality” in judicial office.
The argument here should be seen as part of a larger set of recent efforts in public law to focus on the nature and duties of the office-holder him- or herself, and not just on an impersonal system in which the office-holder and his or her duties and character are incidental. Some of this work focuses on the oath; some of it focuses on the fiduciary nature of public office; and some focuses on the character and virtue of public officials. This work is not confined to American scholarship and, although it has been given a push by recent events, substantially predates the current administration. It deserves attention as a stream of public law scholarship with varied approaches but, speaking in broad terms, a common focus.
Keywords: honor, oath, office, precedent, Kozel, character, virtue, aretaic, impersonality
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation