Senator Robert Byrd passed away last night. While I knew of the good Senator’s remarkable longevity in public service, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he displayed equal stick-to-it-iveness in obtaining a law degree as a night student at American University’s Washington College of Law in D.C. He began in 1952, recently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He finished over ten years later, as a Senator, in 1963.
President Kennedy, who received an honorary degree that day, began the commencement address before the crowd at American University:
President Anderson, members of the faculty, Board of Trustees, distinguished guests, my old colleague Senator Bob Byrd, who has earned his degree through many years of attending night law school while I am earning mine in the next thirty minutes, ladies and gentlemen…
As a Senator he was known for carrying a pocket version of the United States Constitution. While your interpretation may differ, his many speeches on the Senate floor, such as this one, opposing the Iraq War Resolution as falling short of the Constitutionally required formal declaration of war by Congress, reveal his devotion to the document.
In the newly published ‘National Security Strategy of the United States,’ the document which I hold in my hand …. in which the President of the United States outlines the unprecedented policy of preemptive deterrence which the Iraq resolution will implement – the President asserts that: “The Constitution has served us well.” There you have it, 31 pages, and that is the only reference to the Constitution of the United States that is made… and note too that the word “constitution” as mentioned in the President’s document is in lower case. It doesn’t begin with a capital letter. I am deeply disappointed that this Senate …. is not heeding the imperatives of the Constitution and is instead poised to hand off to the President of the united State the exclusive power of Congress to determine matters of war and peace – to declare war.
So the President has said on many occasions he had not made up his mind to go to war. When he does make up his mind, if he does, then he should come back to Congress and seek formal authorization. Let those high-powered lawyers of the White House tell him otherwise. They are going to stand by their client, I suppose. But they did not go to the same law school I went to. They probably did not have to work as hard as I had to work. Their wives may not have worked as hard as my wife to put me through law school. Well, so much for that. Let him come back to the Congress for authorization.
Ten years of law school – there was no career advancement in the offing, no lucrative salary waiting for him, no additional public esteem conferred, certainly it wasn’t for the joy of the experience as any night law student could tell you. Senator Byrd’s decade of law school seemed purely for the sake of the education itself, perhaps to attempt a more faithful and informed devotion to the rule of law he held in such high regard.
Worth remembering on the long slog…