Dueling and the Kentucky Constitution

January 1st, 2016

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Chief Justice Roberts chose dueling as the theme of his year-end report. Maybe he saw Hamilton on Broadway? (I have tickets for next Sunday!). In his remarks, the Chief wrote:

When Kentucky lawyers are admitted to the bar, they are required, by law, to swear that they have not participated in a duel.

It’s true. Since the early 1800s, Kentucky had a problem with dueling. Henry Clay, who served in Congress from Kentucky, fought in (and won) two duels.

Section 228 of Kentucky’s Constitution (ratified in 1891) imposes an oath on all officers and attorneys in the state to abjure from dueling.

Members of the General Assembly and all officers, before they enter upon the execution of the duties of their respective offices, and all members of the bar, before they enter upon the practice of their profession, shall take the following oath or affirmation: I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of …. according to law; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.

One state representative tried to change the oath, saying “It perpetuates that image of Kentucky as being backward.” Another state senator disagreed “”It is a part of the history of this great commonwealth, and I don’t think that we ought to make any changes with respect to the reflection of that history.” But the oath is still there.

Last month, Lt. Gov Jenean Hampton took the dueling oath from Chief Justice Minton John D. Minton, Jr. around 9:00 (she cracks up just a little bit):