Originally, Representative Kraig Powell (Republican – Heber) was advancing relatively bland legislation with HJR 8 – Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Oath of Office Change that simply replaced “this state” with “the State of Utah” in the oath of office were officials swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and of Utah. However, the bill was soon amended by Representative John Knotwell (Republican – Herriman) that would require that all elected officials swear to protect the Constitution of the State of Utah first and then the Constitution of the United States.
Knotwell attempted earlier in the meeting to propose the amendment, but it originally failed on a tie vote of 5-5. Once Representative Mike McKell (Republican – Spanish Fork) arrived, however, Knotwell attempted his resolution again.
Moderate members of the committee were not amused with the move, audibly groaning at the amendment as it was being formally distributed to members of the committee for review.
“I just want to ask. Is this, I mean… Is this just a change so that it reads more clearly? What is the significance of the change?” Representative Brian King (Democrat – Salt Lake City) asked of Knotwell, somewhat befuddled. “That is a fair question. We are elected to a state office and it makes sense to affirm to the constitution of the state first and the federal government second.” Knotwell stated.
“Thats my concern,” King added. “First and foremost we pledge allegiance to the United States of America. We are all sort of laughing at this, and I don’t think it matters at all what the order is, but I feel more comfortable [pledging] first and foremost to support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States. If there is any meaning to the order of the constitutions that are referenced in the oath, that’s my only comment.”
Representative Doug Sagers (Republican – Tooele), aggravated at the fact that the amendment had returned after its initial failure, reminded the committee that there was a reason that we have the order of federal, then state constitution when reciting the oath of office. “[Abraham Lincoln’s reason for] fighting the Civil War was that we are a United States and he did not want to see that divided or destroyed in any manner,” he added.
“The supreme law of the land does supersede the state constitution, and it was better to leave it the way it is,” Representative Jon Stanard (Republican – St George) added.
But, in a legislature where so many are opposed to the federal government, conservatives were quick to defend the amendment.
“We do have a special charge as a state legislature and as a state legislator. First and foremost we have a duty to stand between our citizens and an oppressive federal government,” quipped Representative Brian Greene (Republican – Pleasant Grove). “There are actions being taking in good faith that we believe are super-constitutional, and in that regard, [it is our duty] to first and foremost uphold the [federal] constitution, and make sure this federal constitution does not run roughshod over the state constitution,” Greene added.
Representative Ken Ivory (Republican – West Jordan), who had his comments prefaced by committee co-chair as the final sermon, added that “the federal government is not superior, the states were first… I don’t think it really matters, but I like the idea that we swear an oath to our state first and to our nation, as a union of states – this is a union of states, if we don’t have states, we don’t have a union.”
Powell appeared to be befuddled by the entire discussion. “Please remember that the point of the bill was that the word ‘Utah’ is not currently in the oath of office. That was my intention and as long as that problem is solved, I can support the will of the body.”
The motion to amend the resolution would ultimately pass 6-5 and the amended bill made it out of committee on a vote of 8-3.