Notes from a former Wyomingite: Cheney is Violating the 12th Amendment
By Dave Chandler
I grew up in Wyoming like Dick Cheney, and like Dick Cheney I haven't lived there for years. Unlike Cheney, however, I don't claim to be a resident of the state while I am living somewhere else. This little deceit about which state he lives in is a major constitutional problem for the Republican presidential aspirations of George W. Bush and vice presidential candidate, Dick Cheney.
A lawsuit has just been filed in Texas on the basis of the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution. That provision in part says, "The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice President, one of whom, at lest, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves..."
Now this is a problem for presidential candidate Bush and vice presidential candidate Cheney. Since 1995, Dick Cheney has lived in Highland Park, a Dallas suburb. Mr. Bush, of course, lives in Austin, Texas, serving as the state's governor. As you remember, last summer when the head of the Bush vice presidential search effort essentially picked himself to be the second banana, Cheney caught a jet plane to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to hurriedly change his voter registration from Texas to the state where he served as a congressman ten years ago.
The Bush-Cheney ticket would have us believe this simple maneuver alone is sufficient to satisfy the constitutional requirement that Bush and he not be "inhabitants" of the same state. This is an interesting argument coming from the leading current advocates of adhering to the "letter of the law."
In recent days, the Bush campaign has emphasized in its attack on the Florida Supreme Court that the intent of the state legislature should be strictly observed to when it interprets the law. Republicans are especially fond of this "strict constructionist" theory that says courts should not legislate from the bench but should construe the constitution and statutes with the original meaning intended by the legislature or the constitutional framers.
But it appears that the Bush-Cheney combo is rather selective in which areas they want a strict interpretation and an emphasis on legislative intent. They are vociferous in their advocacy of strict adherence to Florida election law because it serves their ultimate ends, but they don't seem too awfully concerned about a strict reading of Wyoming election law when it comes to residency and voter registration.
In this essay, we're talking about where Cheney is a "resident." The 12th Amendment refers to an "inhabitant." My American Heritage Dictionary describes an "inhabitant" as "A permanent resident." My old paperback legal dictionary notes, however, that "... in a strict sense, residence applies to the mere fact of a person dwelling in a particular abode, while domicile is a person's legal home, or the place that the law presumes is his permanent residence ... Traditionally, one may have more than one residence, but only a single domicile." So, the big question is if Cheney doesn't even fit the criteria of being a resident in Wyoming, how can he possibly be considered an inhabitant of the state?
Wyoming law defines "Residence" as "the place of a person's actual habitation." [WRS 22-1-10(xxx)] When Cheney made his summertime flight to Wyoming to change his voter registration, he was the Chief Executive Officer of Halliburton, Co. and lived in a Dallas suburb. But Cheney owns a vacation house in Jackson Hole, so doesn't that count as a habitation? Well, Wyoming law says that: "Residence is the place where a person has a current habitation and to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning."[WRS 22-1-10(xxx)(A)] When Cheney finished-up a business trip flying around the world lining up government military contracts for Halliburton, do you suppose he usually flew back to his vacation house or to his home near corporate headquarters in Dallas? Or, now that it is legally necessary, could Cheney try to turn the plain meaning of the law on its head and claim that his Jackson home was his REAL home and that his Dallas address was his vacation home? Unfortunately for Dick, it looks like those conscientious conservative Wyoming legislators thought of this possibility too when they wrote into law: "If a person removes to another state with the intent of making it his residence, he loses his residence in Wyoming."[WRS 22-1-10(xxx)(IV)(E)] Which is exactly what Cheney did when he moved to Texas in 1995.
Of course, there is more that demonstrates Dick Cheney is an inhabitant of Texas and not Wyoming. For instance, Cheney claims a Homestead Exemption on his home in Dallas, which is only permitted on a property "occupied as his [or her] principal place of residence."
It is now reported that Cheney has put his Texas home on the market, but that action, coming on the heels of the 12th Amendment legal filing, would actually only indicate that perhaps Cheney is indeed concerned that he has a constitutional "inhabitant" problem. Cheney already also owns a home in McLean, Virginia (where he suffered his latest heart attack), a Washington, D.C suburb. So even if he thinks he is going to get a four-year stint as vice president, he doesn't have an "I've got to move to Washington" excuse for selling his Texas abode. What the future sale of his home in Dallas really demonstrates is that he is, right now, in truth, still an inhabitant of Texas, just like George Walker Bush.
The lawsuit filed in Texas challenging the state's 32 Bush-Cheney electoral votes on the basis on the 12 Amendment has elicited the description of "frivolous" from Cheney's spokesperson. This is especially ironic since the Republican ticket is so stridently arguing the importance of the trite phrase "a deadline is a deadline" -- irrespective of the unique election circumstances in Florida. Perhaps Republican spinners have no choice but to be dismissive of the "inhabitant" challenge because it targets the constitutional foundation of the GOP presidential ticket itself and has the potential of denying an Electoral College majority to George Bush and Dick Cheney.
So what will be the Republican legal defense? Will the Bush-Cheney campaign team put up the argument that it all depends upon what the definition of "inhabitant" is? Will they fall back to the lawyerly tactic so recently employed by the 'hated' Bill Clinton during the impeachment episode?
Or will Cheney rely upon the legal opinions of Wyoming officials? Playing fast and lose with Wyoming residence law, Cheney's defense -- backed up by old Wyoming political pals -- could be, "Hey, I went to high school in the state's largest city, Casper, and I was elected the state's lone Congressman -- I'm a Wyoming boy made good, give me a break."
Well, hey, I was born in Wyoming and attended school there, my parents and two siblings are still residents. But like Cheney, I haven't been an inhabitant of Wyoming for years -- he lives in Texas, I live in Colorado. However, if I decided -- for whatever reason -- to register to vote in Wyoming using my parent's address, while I continued to work and live in Colorado, kept my Colorado driver's license, do you think Wyoming election officials would turn a blind eye and excuse my deception because I was once president of my high school junior class? To the contrary, I would probably be charged with voter fraud for violating the Registration Oath you have to swear to that requires you to state "current residence address."
Why then, you may ask, have Wyoming government officials so far let Cheney get by with this obvious subterfuge over where he really lives? In my younger days, once upon a time in Wyoming, I was a politically active Democrat. The joke was that Democrats held their state convention in a telephone booth. Wyoming is about as close to a one-party-state as you can get and still be a part of the Federal Union. It would be political and social suicide for any county election officer to point out that the emperor wears no clothes. Believe me, it just won't happen in Wyoming.
Now, I am not a lawyer, I've just used my commons sense in the analysis above. I happen to be one of those folks that think the plain and obvious meaning of laws ought to be followed when they don't obviously conflict with other laws. Politicians shouldn't look for legal loopholes and crafty explanations to get them off the hook because, as George W. Bush is partial to saying, "I trust the people."
And in this case, it all seems pretty clear to me. The U.S. Constitution says that Bush and Cheney cannot live in the same state and receive that state's electoral votes. Wyoming law says that you aren't an inhabitant or resident of that state just because you change your voter registration for political reasons. Bush and Cheney are both residents of the same state; therefore, Texas electors are not legally permitted to cast their thirty-two electoral votes for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on December 18, 2000.
There has been a lot of talk about the "legitimacy" of the winner of the presidential race because of the mess in Florida. But before any votes were even cast on November 7, the scheming of George Bush and Dick Cheney to skirt the mandate of the United States Constitution in the 12th Amendment undermined the legitimacy of this Republican ticket. That's something for all Americans to ponder as they witness the continuing sanctimonious Bush campaign diatribes about "the rule of law" in Florida.
Dave Chandler lives in Arvada, Colorado, where he publishes the environmental and political web site earthside.com