Wednesday, Dec. 02 2009
(Editor's Note: As part of our efforts to provide a variety of views on the
Commentary page, today we debut a monthly "Point of View" column by Tad
Armstrong, a lawyer in Edwardsville. In 2005, Armstrong was challenged by a
local resident to educate citizens about our Constitution. The informal
gathering turned into 3,000 pages of educational materials, five adult-study
clubs in Madison County and a student club at Edwardsville High School.
Armstrong, 58, envisions an ELL Constitution Club (Earn It, Learn It or Lose
It) in communities across the country. You can learn more by calling him at
618-656-6770 or visiting ww.ellclubs.com.)
Congratulations, Mr. President, but if you care about the rule of law, you'll
have to fork over the Nobel Peace Prize within 60 days of accepting it next
week. Contrary to Mel Brooks' pronouncement in "History of the World Part I,"
it's not always good to be the king. It's impossible if you are an American
Article I of the Constitution states: "No Title of Nobility shall be granted by
the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under
them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present,
Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or
Clearly, the presidency is both an office of "profit" and of "trust" and the
prize package (including 1.4 million clams) is included in the terms "present"
or "emolument." Therefore, a sitting president cannot accept it from a "King,
Prince or foreign State" without the consent of Congress.
While the Prize comes from the private Nobel Foundaation, Alfred Nobel left
instructions in his will that winners would be selected by a "committee of
five" appointed by the Parliament of Norway. There is no question that the
intent of Article I and a 1966 law passed by Congress is such that this prize
is "from a foreign State."
What does "consent of Congress" mean? It could be argued that there must be
specific consent of Congress for this prize to be accepted, which Congress has
not provided because, no doubt, most of its members don't have a clue it is
But in 1966, Congress passed a law dealing with the receipt and disposition of
foreign gifts and decorations, including those that fall into the lap of a
sitting president. That alone would bar the president from accepting the prize.
That law, now Section 7342 of the U.S. Code, provides that unless Congress
provides specific consent to the president to accept the prize and changes the
rules for its disposition, the prize must be accepted "on behalf of the United
States of America" and the $1.4 million must be turned over to the Treasury.
Did I hear someone say: "Cheap shot! After all, the President graciously
announced that all of the money would be donated to charity. He won fair and
square. Let him experience the joy of giving."
The framers included these Constitutional provisions to send a message to other
nations that they need not offer bribes to our president in the hope of gaining
political advantage, for we don't allow our leaders to accept them. Would
Norway expect Mr. Obama to embrace its global warming policy, for example? Come
to think of it, that might be a very good reason for Congress to consider
refusing the prize.
Additionally, because the money is not the president's to give away, he won't
be tempted to narrow his charitable giving to only those charities likely to
reward him with future campaign contributions. Does ACORN come to mind?
So, Mr. President, you took an oath to "preserve, protect and defend" the
Constitution "to the best of your ability." You cannot give the prize money to
charities of your choice. In fact, if you do not turn it over to the Treasury,
the law allows Attorney General Eric Holder to bring a civil suit against you
for all of the prize money plus $5,000. I'm not holding my breath.
Kings get to keep their spoils or designate their disposition, but you are not
king. Better fork it over. Your magnanimous decision to give it away is the
only cheap shot on the table. As a lawyer, an oath taker and the president of
the United States, you should know better.
To put all of this in extra-legal perspective, just prior to his death when
Congress was considering awarding President Harry S Truman with the Medal of
Honor, he said he was thankful, but would not accept an award meant for bravery
in battle. He also turned down lucrative corporate positions offered to him
after he left office. He said:
"I knew they were not interested in hiring Harry Truman . . . they wanted to
hire . . . the former president of the United States. I could never lend myself
to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the
prestige and the dignity of the office of the presidency."
Are there any such statesmen left?