A Civics Lesson, Or Why I Love Jamie Raskin

Watching today’s House of Representatives too often reminds me of farce: Marjorie Taylor Greene and her ilk are so lacking in gravitas, so proudly ignorant, so strident as they parade their various prejudices and display their utter unfitness for elective office, the show they put on tends to overpower recognition of their more serious and/or able colleagues.

One of my favorites in that latter group is Jamin Raskin. I’ve followed Congressman Raskin since before he was first elected, actually–many years ago, my husband and I were in Washington, D.C., catching up with former Mayor Bill Hudnut and his wife Beverly. Bev was then in law school, and introduced me to her Constitutional Law professor, who–among other things– shared my obsession with civic literacy, and had produced a book for use by high school government teachers. That professor was Jamin Raskin.

During his tenure in Congress, Raskin has frequently called upon his academic background to explain America to his dimmer colleagues. One of my favorite examples was when he told an excessively pious lawmaker, “When you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.” (He recently repeated this to Mike Johnson, the current Speaker, who has frequently opined that “the bible comes first, before the Constitution.”)

He taught another lesson when he spoke out against the censure of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who had made remarks that echoed long-time anti-Semitic tropes. In a press release, Raskin–who is Jewish–

urged the House to respect and protect the right to political free speech granted under the First Amendment and the Speech or Debate Clause by not using the House disciplinary process to punish Members’ political speech; warned of the chilling effects that politicizing and weaponizing the House’s censure mechanism would have on the speech of all Members; and noted that, in the history of the House of Representatives, the overwhelming number of censures have been for conduct, like taking bribes, embezzling funds, assaulting other Members, engaging in mail fraud, and having sex with pages, and that the only kinds of speech that have ever been punished have been true threats of violence, fighting words on the floor towards other Members, and incitement to insurrection and secession, none of which are protected by the Constitution and none of which are implicated here.  

Raskin’s legal skills were evident when he managed Trump’s second impeachment.

And recently, when Congressman Glenn Grothman attempted to lecture Raskin on a perceived distinction between a “republic” and a “democracy,” Raskin outdid himself, providing Grothman with a history lesson.

The link is to CSpann, and I urge you to click through and watch Raskin deliver that brief but powerful lesson.

Raskin’s work ethic has been obvious, as he has continued to work during a recent bout with cancer and the unimaginable pain of losing a son to suicide. 

There are undoubtedly other Jamie Raskins in “the people’s House,” with whom I’m unfamiliar. I focus on him because I’ve met him, because he actively defends important constitutional values,  and because his wit and intellect and work ethic have all been particularly impressive, but I am confident that for every MTG, Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar and Jim Banks there are two or three serious elected Representatives trying to do a good job for their constituents at a particularly contentious time.  (The recent bipartisan booing of MTG on the House floor was a welcome indicator that those individuals are as tired of performative politics as I am.)

Perhaps–if and when Americans tire of confusing political gravitas and legislative capacity with celebrity–we will be able to replace the Christian Nationalist “God squad” and other self-important know-nothings with people who are actually familiar with the Constitution and serious about producing legislation to improve Americans’ lives, and strengthen democratic values.

Like Jamie Raskin. 


  1. This is such important commentary, and the CSpan link to Ruskin’s comments is so well worth a listen.
    Sheila, do you have a short response to those people who say things along the line of “this nation was founded as a Christian nation”?
    Thank you for your work and perseverance.

  2. Professor-it brings joy to my heart that you, too, respect this member of Congress, as much as I do. Thank you.

  3. Jamie Raskin, constitutional law professor, is my favorite congressman. He is a brilliant patriot who has seen his share of personal adversity and has every qualification for the Oval Office. He even has a sense of humor in the course of his admirable service to country – service with a smile. If, (as I fervently hope), we Democrats come up with a House majority this fall and he is interested, I here and now nominate him for Speaker. There is no one better qualified – no one.

  4. If you like Jamie, consider adding KY Rep. Thomas Massie to your list to follow. He’s an enlightened representative within the crazy Republican caucus.

    The only issue I have with Jamie is his anti-Russia and anti-China spin. It’s getting us nowhere. Well, it’s allowing us to fall behind as a once prominent leader. Instead of being co-leaders with China, we’ve chosen to be adversaries, and we’re going around Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, forcing countries to choose the US over Russia/China. Georgia and Niger are current examples. Niger had the gravitas to tell the world why they told us to leave, and invited Russia in.

    As we often point out on this blog, we’ve been an oligarchy for a long time. We see competition as a win/lose proposition—there is no trophy for second place, etc. Albert Einstein told us in 1949 that the colonizer or predatory capitalism mindset had to end so we could move on to a collaborative mindset. The oligarchy ignored him and now wants protection to save its ass from poor planning. Washington wants to oblige them. Wrong path!

  5. As a side note, if Speaker Johnson was actually practicing what his Bible teaches he would not have stood outside the NY court house lying about the Judges daughter. Something about “thou shalt not render false witness”. Then again no one can be a practicing follower of the Christ and support trump. The two are polar opposites.

  6. Rep. Raskin is indeed an admirable role model for public service. I especially enjoyed his participation on the Jan. 6 Special Committee. The “Freedom Caucus” will be remembered (if at all) for what NOT to do while in Congress.

  7. Johnson and his equally corrupt and brain-dead Trump water bearers made me sick. There they stood obediently mouthing the Trump vituperatives that Trump cannot without going to the jail cell where he truly belongs.

    But there is so much more … How about the 17% of voters who blame Biden for the overturning of Roe? How on earth is the race for President a near tossup? Is it the Russian disinformation campaign hard at work, or is it Todd’s favorite bogeymen, the oligarchs – or both that are creating this political clown show? Are our citizens really that stupid, naive or susceptible to such rubbish?

    Well, if these creatures like J.D. Vance retain power in Congress, we deserve what we get. I’m glad I’m old.

  8. Connie: John Adams, in dealing with the Barbary coast countries, and signing a treaty regarding the piracy then going on, wrote, very specifically, that the U.S. was NOT a christian nation. Other founders, in other contexts, said the same thing.
    Raskin rocks!

  9. Shelia, you give me a lesson in government/politics daily with your posts. Thanks

  10. Anyone who loves the Constitution respects Jamie Raskin. He embodies it. Nobody in the present Congress knows more about it. He could lecture SCOTUS about it and all of its history.

    And yet the Reds want the diametric opposite of him for President. They want a Constitutional clown instead.

  11. Jamie Raskin is a great guy….but, in these times when we desperately need public servants to put our democracy above “Party” and “Ideology”, he is a proud member of the Progressive Caucus, signaling whether he likes it or not, that he is a “tribe”. Tribalism is not democracy at its finest.

  12. Hey Lester — what “tribe” do you belong to? Or did all of your values and beliefs just materialize one day out of thin air while you slept?
    Just because one aligns with a particular caucus doesn’t mean that you place Party and Ideology above democracy. There are “core” values and there are current beliefs and ideas. You have the 2 confused.
    I have never seen Rep. Raskin betray democracy.
    Me thinks you don’t have anything good to say about anyone. Maybe you’re in the “Curmudgeon Tribe.”

  13. Once upon a time, some of the best and brightest in Congress were from Indiana. Sadly, that’s not the case today. The days of people like Dick Lugar and John Brademas are long gone. When I was in DC, I got calls from lots of Senators, but only a very few from the House. Too many of them aren’t interested in governing. I wish someone like Mr. Raskin had been there, but no such luck. He is a rare American treasure.
    Thanks for sharing!

  14. Really, Todd? Massie? MTG’s right-hand man?
    Well, at least your antisemitism was muted today.

  15. Well worth a read:
    Jamie Raskiin’s Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy

  16. A simple question –
    Why is a bible or any other religious book used while being sworn into office and was this started by our country’s founders?

    I find this tradition to be a superfluous joke because far too many legislators could not care less that they swore their oath to office while one hand is on a bible. Repeating their oath of office is should be all that is necessary.

  17. Kathy,

    I am in the human tribe which believes that all people are equal and have equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How we get to those is complicated in our ever-changing world with no direct “ideological interstate” to ride on….

  18. Thanks for sharing clip showing Jamie Raskin’s brilliant and clarifying explanations of US history and the meaning of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Politicians attempts to manipulate our customs and laws to promote their exclusive special interests are no match for Raskin’s clarion call to the true meaning of US Constitution and Democracy. His vigilant work on the second impeachment trial and chairman of the House Select Committee investigating the 1/6 insurrection has kept a public light and expose’ on the corruption that was going on in the executive branch and Congress. Raskin qualifies as a true American patriot working through extreme personal tragedy and serious illness to protect this Country. Raskin had the opportunity to run for US Senate from Maryland but decided to stay in the fray and run for Maryland’s Representative in the House again. His insight of the problems in our government and fortitude to work toward justice is a positive that shouldn’t be underestimated.

  19. Nancy;
    Many of the founding fathers were Freemasons. It is one of their tenets that no atheist can take swear a binding oath because he has no moral compass. Therefore, to become a member a man needs to acknowledge a sacred law and take his oath upon it. Hence the custom.

    And note particularly that Officers of the Government take their oath to defend the Constitution on a book of Sacred Law; not on the Constitution itself.

    And note also, that Masonry is NOT a religion. Each man takes his Masonic oath on his own book of Sacred Law. Many Lodges have members of many faiths and it is our purpose that we all work together in harmony.

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