By refusing to attend the legislative session and, worse, by leaving the state entirely so that Wisconsin law enforcement officials cannot compel their attendance (“Escape From Wisconsin” seems to be the idea), the “Badger 14” have committed a fundamental offense: they have violated the constitutional oath they made when they took office.
The wording of that oath is extremely specific, and clearly violated by the actions today of these senators. Article IV, Section 28 of the Wisconsin Constitution (available online here) provides:
Oath of office. Members of the legislature, and all officers, executive and judicial, except such inferior officers as may be by law exempted, shall before they enter upon the duties of their respective offices, take and subscribe an oath or affirmation to support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Wisconsin, and faithfully to discharge the duties of their respective offices to the best of their ability.
One of the duties of a senator — indeed, the central duty — is to attend legislative sessions and vote on measures submitted to the Legislature for vote. According to the oath they swore, senators must “faithfully” discharge this duty “to the best of their ability.”
Obviously the “Badger 14” senators are not living up to their oath. They are deliberately flouting their duty to attend the current session. They are doing so, they admit, to hold the legislative process hostage so as to force compromises that they are unable to win by living up to their oath and following the rules. To allow these senators to use nonattendance during a legislative session as a bargaining chip would tell all legislators that they are free to disregard their oath whenever they feel it is convenient to do so. To permit these senators to remain in office with the chairs they have vacated left empty would make a mockery of the constitutional oath and set a dangerous precedent which will encourage further lawlessness in the future.
In effect, by consciously and affirmatively violating their constitutional oath — by choosing to flee the state rather than attend the legislative session — these 14 senators have removed themselves from office. The mechanics of how these senators can be replaced in the near future with new senators, ones who will be willing to live up to their constitutional oath, are briefly sketched in the next two blog posts.