Getting elected by the voters alone is not sufficient to qualify a person to serve as a member of the Maryland General Assembly. Before assuming the duties of senator or delegate the person must take an oath of office that requires him or her, among other things, to “support the Constitution of the United States.”
We are about to find out from the House of Delegates if that oath still means anything. Heaven help us if it does not.
In my opinion, Del. Daniel Cox, a Republican from Frederick County, played a culpable role in the events leading up to and during the violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The occupation endangered the lives of the vice president of the United States and members of Congress and resulted in the death of one Capitol police officer and four rioters. A second Capitol police officer subsequently committed suicide. The occupation variously has been described as an insurrection, an attempted coup d’état, and as sedition.
Whatever else it was, it was a frontal assault on the rule of law established by the constitution that Cox swore to support. Cox not only failed to support the constitution; he defiled it.
The House of Delegates should use its power under Article III, Section 19 of the Maryland Constitution to remove him from office.
Jan. 6 mob violence was a foregone conclusion
President Trump and his allies used language calculated to incite violence in promoting a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, the day that Congress was scheduled to convene to formally validate the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.
In a statement on Jan. 1 that went viral, pro-Trump lawyer L. Lin Wood said that Vice President Mike Pence should be executed by firing squad for treason if he refused Trump’s demand that Pence withhold from Congress the certificates of Electoral College votes from states in which those votes allegedly were in dispute.
Pence had no authority to do as Trump wished, nor did Congress have any basis in law or in fact for overturning the results of the Electoral College. The stage was set for the rally to turn ugly.
Cox helped arrange transportation for three busloads of his constituents to attend the rally. He later denounced the mob violence, but his protestation that he intended to do nothing more than support a peaceful protest was belied by a comment on Twitter.
The ‘Pence is a traitor’ tweet
On Jan. 6, Pence convened Congress at 1 p.m. and released a letter explaining that he lacked the unilateral authority to accept or reject electoral votes. At 2:07 p.m., a mob breached the steps on the east side of the Capitol. By 2:16 p.m. it was inside the building.
At 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence displayed a lack of courage by failing to reject disputed votes. At 3:21 p.m., Cox tweeted that Pence was a “traitor.” That was a serious accusation indeed, as treason carries with it the death penalty under federal law.
Multiple witnesses heard rioters chant “Hang Mike Pence.” Wooden gallows were erected next to the Capitol reflecting pool. If Cox was surprised and offended by the violent turn of events, as he seems to suggest, why tweet such an inflammatory accusation while Pence and has family were holed up inside the Capitol hiding from the mob?
On the other hand, perhaps Cox’s initial intentions were benign, and he simply got swept up in the hysteria of a lynch mob intent on hanging the vice president of the United States. Either way, there is no acceptable explanation for his actions.
Cox knew better
Cox, a lawyer as well as a legislator, knew or should have known that the “Stop the Steal” movement was based on a lie. He certainly was aware that Congress had no constitutional basis for overturning the election of Joe Biden.
Allegations of widespread voter fraud were dismissed as unfounded in numerous lawsuits. Vote counts were certified by the states and electors to the Electoral College chosen accordingly. Ballots were cast in the Electoral College and President-elect Biden received 306 votes, well over the 270 needed.
Moreover, Cox knew that Pence was prevented by the same Constitution that Cox swore to support from acceding to President Trump’s demand that Pence refuse to report out Electoral College votes from states in which those votes allegedly were in dispute. No credible legal scholar disagreed with Pence’s description of the limitations on his authority under the law.
Tweeting that Pence was a “traitor” because Pence refused to participate in a coup d’état aimed at overturning the legitimate results of a presidential election, especially under circumstances in which Pence’s life was in danger, was an act that should disqualify Cox from serving as a public official now and in the future.
If he had any decency, he would resign his seat in the House of Delegates.
The duty of the House of Delegates is clear
Each branch of the General Assembly has broad authority to expel its members for misconduct. In fact, no entity other than the House of Delegates has the power to sanction Cox for violating his oath of office.
If Cox does not resign, he should be expelled from his seat in the House of Delegates. There is no place in government for men or women for whom the rule of law, including the U.S. Constitution, is not sacrosanct.
— DAVID A. PLYMYER
The writer is a former county attorney in Anne Arundel County. He can be reached at [email protected]. Twitter: @dplymyer