The News Gets Facts Wrong On Character

Mar 1st, 2010 | By | Category: The News

The News today includes an article that claims, “Every constitution requires men of character to qualify as legislators.” While this seems like an unsurprising claim, the article gets several facts wrong.

The article, by Sabir Shah, claims that:

“…lawmakers in every country of the world are required to have crime-free life history in order to qualify as members of legislative houses or even after they manage to get elected to the houses.”

This is incorrect. In fact, it was easily found to be wrong with a simple Google search. I did a Google search for the phrase ‘legislators with criminal records’ and found that in India, “As many as 125 candidates with criminal records have won in assembly elections of five states that have just concluded, says a study conducted by the National Election Watch (NEW).” In the USA, there are many legislators who have served with criminal records. Actually, according to Article 1 Section 6 of the American constitution grants immunity to legislators while they are in attendance to the Congress.

They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.

While there are certainly measures in many nations to remove from office individuals who commit high crimes such as treason or murder, it is not true that any criminal conviction will disqualify individuals from the legislature. More to the point, while “character” often makes up a qualification for holding office in many nations, what defines “character” differs greatly.

For example, the constitution of Saudi Arabia Says in Article 5 that “Rule passes to the sons of the founding King…the most upright among them is to receive allegiance…” This not only makes character an issue, but it also makes character comparative. That is, one of the sons will gain power no matter what (obviously, as it is a monarchy) – but that good character only matters in relation to the other sons. So, it is not necessarily a matter of the most righteous but could be the least bad! This is not the case, but it does show how these matters of character are very different from nation to nation and must be considered as such.

The News article is particularly curious as it is not only factually questionable, it seems to serve an ambiguous lesson. In other words, what is the point of this article? It is easy to assume that it is a thinly veiled swipe at NRO beneficiaries. Perhaps it is an article better published on the opinion page. First, though, the reporter should probably check his facts.

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