Sedition is encouraging one’s fellow citizens to rebel against their state. It is a crime for two or more people within the jurisdiction of the United States to conspire to overthrow or destroy by force the government of the United States. The word seditious means disposed to arouse or take part in sedition.
Our system of government is a democratic republic or representative democracy. It is commonly called a democracy. Democracies are best known for free and fair elections and peaceful transfer of power. Precedent, tradition, and legitimacy have helped to create these democratic norms.
On the heels of his humiliating defeat in the previous year’s election, John Adams set an important precedent. His departure from office marked the first peaceful transfer of power between political opponents in the United States, now viewed as a hallmark of the nation’s democracy. Since then, and until now, the loser of every presidential election in U.S. history has willingly and peacefully surrendered power to the winner, despite whatever personal animosity or political divisions might have existed.
Free and fair elections are measured by laws that are established prior to the election and then implemented in the election process. States are in charge of the election laws that are used to elect our President. In 2000 in the state of Florida, the Florida Secretary of State stopped the recount process and certified the narrow victory for George W. Bush. The national perspective on laws used to elect the President was that the certification of the vote by the Secretary of State of Florida was legal and appropriate. The United States Supreme Court in Gore v Bush supported that conclusion in a unanimous decision.
The election laws had been followed and the 2000 election was over. Gore conceded. Legitimacy of the election was accepted on a national and international basis. Precedent and tradition had been followed. Overall strength and legitimacy of our system of government was as strong as ever.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment. We have the right to question all aspects of our government including the election process. But it is important to the legitimacy of our government that we follow and support existing laws. The 2020 election was somewhat different because the pandemic affected our method of voting. But that did not occur overnight. Adequate time was available for election law modification prior to the election. And indeed many modifications were litigated prior to the election. There was no overriding legitimate reason to delay the election. Election legitimacy is based on voting in accordance to existing laws and accurate vote counting.
Claims of election fraud prior to the election have no basis. Our court system is the place to challenge election procedures. If a candidate cannot win these challenges in court, then the laws dictate that the election is expected to follow the pattern of free and fair.
Historians will agree that the 2020 election was held in accordance with laws that existed at that time. And legal experts will agree that the votes were counted accurately; the 60 court challenges did not change the result. All 50 states certified their election results. All laws were explicitly followed; legally the election was over. If a Super Bowl referee makes a critical call, and the reply officials do not reverse the call, the winner of the game may be decided by that call. And when the fourth quarter ends and one team is ahead, the game is over, the rules do not allow further challenges. That contest is based on rules and our Presidential election is based on rules.
Many of us may not like the results of the contest, but we typically do not join with others or solicit an organized effort to engage in efforts to contest the result. Venting our personal frustrations is normal and is not unlawful. Sedition requires two or more people.
Free and fair elections and peaceful transfer of power are cornerstones of what we call democracy. If the free and fair election process is substantially damaged, it may not be possible to maintain our current form of government. It follows that those who organize in an attempt to upend our free and fair election system are guilty of sedition.
Sedition is far more dangerous when it is perpetrated by the President of the United States. And all those who follow the seditious leader are equally guilty. The concept of ‘I was just following his lead’ may not be a legal defense for the crime of sedition. This is especially true for elected officials because they have a relatively perfect knowledge of the law.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed and elected representatives have a specific right to make comments and investigate prospective wrongdoing. But when the intent of their actions is seditious, freedom of speech is overridden by sedition laws. An organized effort to overturn a free and fair election is seditious. Those belonging to specific political party or a specific faction cannot use this as an excuse for an attempt to undermine our government. Fans should not organize to ban professional football because their team lost the Super Bowl.
Congressmen represent about 700,000 people. They are elected to speak for those people. If their speech undermines our government, that’s sedition on steroids. Elected representatives swear an oath to protect and defend our Constitution. That requires them to be extra cautious when taking actions that could potentially undermine our system of government. They should, in accordance to their oath, avoid taking actions and or voting for measures that might be interpreted as seditious.
All actions to challenge the results of a presidential election after 50 states have certified their election results are antithetical to the election process. Those actions lack precedent and go against tradition. Any hint that the election was illegitimate, after all of the laws were followed when holding the election, smells of sour grapes or a precursor to sedition. The more actions and votes taken to support those challenges, the higher the level of seditiousness. Inevitably, a rising level of seditious actions leads to an overt attempt to overthrow the government.
Many Americans did not expect that votes by our elected representatives would lead to the violent action of January 6th 2021. And these Americans supported these election challenging votes by their elected representatives. It is not clear how many Americans wanted to overturn the election, and therefore overthrow the government, just because their candidate did not win.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see the effect of those votes. If the President, of his own accord, chooses to continue attempts to overturn election results, that’s personal action and does not meet the definition of sedition. The law gives him the right to be a sore loser. But he has no authority to command or persuade others to take actions against our government.
Each elected official has free will and a duty to protect and defend our Constitution. Those members of Congress that chose to challenge the election results are individually accountable for their pre-seditious actions. And their continuous rhetoric supporting that position only reinforces that accountability. Failure to acknowledge the winner of the Presidential election, after the votes had been counted and certified may be, in retrospect, a seditious act. During the Nixon era there was a slogan ‘America, love it or leave it’. That applies today. Members of Congress can’t have it both ways. They cannot claim to protect and defend the Constitution and love America and at the same time cast votes that undermine our form of government. If they don’t like our election system (finalized when 50 states certify their vote totals) perhaps they can leave Congress or leave the country and go to a country where they find the laws more suitable.
The rhetoric and actions taken by members of Congress has directly or indirectly lead to a violent attempt to take over the halls of Congress. The word seditious means disposed to arouse or take part in sedition. A degree of guilt certainly falls on some of our elected representatives. If they suffer no negative consequences, then they, and all future elected representatives, will be emboldened to take similar actions in the future.
If the President has personally done wrong, then laws will be enforced and the President will suffer negative consequences. It is also time to consider potential illegal actions by other elected officials and penalize those who are guilty.
Federalism is part of our system of government. Indirectly, with the votes of the people, states elect the President. Those state officials, 18 attorneys general, who participated in the election challenge, after all 50 states certified the election results, may also have a degree of guilt. Their efforts had major racial overtones. Perhaps they would overturn the winner of the Super Bowl because one team had too many black players or too many white players.
Our system of government, has in the past, and will in the future, endure many challenges. Ultimately, our success as a government will depend on how we respond to sedition and all other challenges. We should encourage our elected officials to take a long-term perspective and let their better angels guide their actions.