We here at The Objective Observer are big fans of punctuation. Not so much from an Oxford English Dictionary, “according to Hoyle”, proper use of punctuation perspective, but big fans nonetheless. You see, we use punctuation quite frequently in our articles more in an attempt to convey a sense of “speaking” naturally to the reader, an attempt to convey a conversational atmosphere that emulates the natural pauses in a spoken conversation versus a flat, dull, boring dictation of words on a page. It’s why we give purposeful thought to our use of commas, semi-colons, periods and ellipses and often painstakingly consider which of these punctuations provides the best effect for the “voice” we are trying to convey.
Pretentious self affirmation aside, punctuations and; in particular, commas, are actually important. Consider the title to this article, “Let’s Eat Grandma!” versus “Let’s Eat, Grandma!”. Pretty important. Just saying, commas save lives. Thus it is with some mild amusement that we have watched the last few months of fervent legal and grammatical attention being levied against one particular comma buried within the
United States Constitution. The comma in question appears in Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution:
“Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.” – Article I, Section 3
It’s this comma between “removal from office” and “disqualification to hold” that has stirred up a tremendous amount of heated debate regarding the constitutionality of holding a second impeachment trial for former President Trump. On the one side, legal scholars have concluded that the trial is unconstitutional because the purpose of impeachment is only to remove a sitting official from office and then subsequently disqualify that person from ever holding office again. The other side reads the passage to mean that the two clauses are independent of one another, that the Senate can remove an individual from office or disqualify a person from holding a future office.
We know, commas, right? Sheesh, whoever thought we’d be talking about commas? Well, let’s just be clear, the Constitution is a complete travesty when it comes to the proper use of grammar and punctuation. In fact, the Constitution can’t even go two words without immediately having a punctuation error involving a comma. “We The People”? That should be “We, The People” you grammarless imbeciles! The founding fathers may have been civic geniuses but when it came to grammar, well, they just down right sucked at it.
And yet, here we are having this debate over the constitutionality of something because of a comma in a document that is literally a trash heap of poor grammar and questionable punctuation. So be it.
Now, setting aside that there exists in this world an ideology where “and’ actually means “or”, the “its constitutional” crowd seems to pin its argument on the modern Oxford English Dictionary’s guidance that a comma before the word “and” is necessary when two clauses are independent of one another, as in:
On Monday we’ll impeach the President, and on Tuesday we’ll laugh our asses off.
It’s cold in Washington D.C., and I can’t find my mittens.
These sentences each contain two independent clauses and thus, according to Oxford comma rules, require a comma before the word “and”.
Now, considering the Constitution’s overall tragic grammar and punctuation, is it likely that we can use the modern, rigorous Oxford English Dictionary’s rules regarding commas to properly interpret the Constitution’s meaning? Unlikely. More likely, we would need to understand the common use of commas coupled with the word “and” at the time the Constitution was written or even more specifically understand the personal, deeply held philosophical ruminations regarding commas of the scribe that penned the Constitutional passage in question. How in the hell are we going to manage that? Well, perhaps we can use the Constitution itself for guidance. You see, three paragraphs above the passage in question is this paragraph:
“No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen.”
This passage is structured identically to the passage in question. We have two clauses, “age of thirty years” and “been nine years a citizen” joined by our nefarious comma directly before the word “and”. Thus, if we are to use the “its constitutional” crowd’s argument in this case then are we saying that nine year old’s can be Senators? Clearly not. Clearly, the intended meaning is that an individual must be at least 30 years old and have been a citizen of the
United States for at least 9 years, not that an individual must be 30 years old or have been a citizen for 9 years, meaning a 9 year old born in the United States could be a Senator.
So…why are we having this discussion and debate about that comma again? Clearly, to any objective observer, those two clauses “removal from office” and “disqualification to hold” are not independent and thus the second impeachment trial of former President Trump is technically unconstitutional because the current trial extends further than removal from office. Because you can’t. Former President Trump is not in office and hence he cannot be removed from it. Case closed. Imagine that, “and” means “and”.
Not that any of this matters. Attempting to analyze a single comma in the dumpster fire of grammar that is the
United States Constitution is beyond pointless. Besides, small things like logic and commonsense don’t really matter these days. But still, pretty obvious and simple if one looks at things objectively. Regardless, former President Trump’s second impeachment trial starts today because, just like science, people are just going to cherry pick facts and opinion that support their predetermined positions.
So, this second impeachment trial being obviously unconstitutional and all must explain why Chief Justice Roberts is not presiding over this second impeachment trial, right? The Constitution clearly states:
“The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.”
Actually, no. Since former President Trump is no longer the sitting President, then the Chief Justice is not required to preside over the trial. Nifty. But the real question is, what is up with that colon? WTF is that?!? Just use a God damn period for Christ’s sake. Man, whoever wrote this Constitution was a grammatical retard, sorry, sorry, we meant “punctuationally challenged”…