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The third paragraph of Article VI of the Constitution of the United States includes this:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution;

I would guess that "support" does not forbid them to express disagreement with something in the Constitution or to propose that something in it be amended.

I would also guess that it does mean they acknowledge that whatever power and authority they have is subordinate to the federal Constitution.

Doubtless someone somewhere has more than just guesses about this.

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  • PS: Might a member of a city council be neither a member of one of the "several State Legislatures" nor an executive or judicial officer? I'd be surprised if they don't also take such oaths. How does their status fit here? (Mayors, on the other hand, would clearly be executive officers of the state.) Aug 26, 2016 at 18:34
  • There seems to be only one other place in the Constitution where the word "support" appears, in Article I, Section 8, where Congress is granted the power "to raise and support armies", but that has nothing to do with this. Aug 26, 2016 at 18:35
  • If the Articles of Confederation didn't have this language, well, the AoC wasn't supported by Congress in 1788.
    – user662852
    Aug 26, 2016 at 23:26
  • A mayor is the executive officer of a municipality. The municipality is chartered by a state, but that doesn't make the mayor an officer of the state.
    – phoog
    Aug 27, 2016 at 0:26
  • @MichaelHardy: Your followup question is really completely separate, but it seems to have a clear answer: this provision doesn't require them to take such oaths. Of course, there might be other provisions in federal or state law which do. Aug 27, 2016 at 15:03

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The current wording of the oath of office is:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

This is used for members of Congress, and for military officers. It is specified by 5 USC 3331. This wording was changed in 1862 to make it stricter, in the face of fears of disloyalty on the outbreak of the US Civil War. The language was further revised in 1884, and again in 1966. See "Oath of Office" an official page of the US Senate, and "Oath of Office" an official page of the US House of Representatives.

However, none of these clearly define the precise meaning of "support", which has ben part of the oath since the version prescribed by the First Congress in 1789.

I am not aware of any legal case in which a person was charged with having failed to support Constitution, and so no court interpretation of this wording seems to have been made.

It would seem, by the "ordinary meaning" rule, that a person who vows to "support" the Constitution is promising to adhere to its lawful commands, and to be loyal to the government established by the Constitution. It does not include a promise not to advocate for lawful changes in the Constitution, nor would it be violated by expressing the view that changes in the constitution would be improvements.

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  • I'm not aware that it's even a crime, per se, to violate this oath. (Though many of the things you might do to violate could themselves be crimes.) Feb 13, 2023 at 6:15
  • Generally, given that the constitution has a process by which it can be amended, and the very first exercise of the constitutional power was to amend in recognition of the right of Free Speech, the use of "Support" in the Oath of Office means to that you will uphold the constitution as amended but it is perfectly acceptable to disagree with the Constitution and advocate for an amendment change.
    – hszmv
    Feb 13, 2023 at 13:48
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    @Nate Eldredge apparently, during the Civil War period, people who had violated the oath by supporting the Confederacy were at least occasionally prosecuted for perjury. Feb 13, 2023 at 14:39
  • The "so help me God" element is optional. One can make an affirmation and that affirmation need not mention God.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 15 at 0:00
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“Support”, means if you are able to; you must maintain, rewrite, interpret as written , add-to, amend the constitution if necessary.

Defend is just that : defend its meaning and law. Apply them as willed by the constitution. Defend the country and its people as per the constitution .

Thus remember the president’s oath doesn’t allow him to support just defend / protect as written.

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