Though the Heavens Fall: Mike Pence and the Rule of Law

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Dr. Malcolm Cross

“Let justice be done, though the heavens fall” is a common saying in English jurisprudence meaning that the rule of law must be adhered to at all costs. The second attempt to convict impeached former president Trump has ended in his acquittal, but the post-mortems of the events of 1/6 have only just begun.  Any analysis of 1/6 should include a close examination of the role played by former Vice President Mike Pence.  His conduct that day reflected the greatest devotion possible to the rule of law.

Of course, anyone will believe in the rule of law when doing so suits him. But Pence  showed his devotion even at great personal cost to himself.  Adherence to the law required him to preside over the counting of electoral votes which would certify not only Trump’s defeat for a second term, but his own as well.  Moreover, he did so even as rioters were demanding that he be put to death, and a gallows was being erected outside the Capitol.

Now it might be argued that Pence really had no choice.  The law required him to open the sealed electoral votes submitted by the states, preside over their tabulation before Congress, and announce the final results of the count.  He had no authority to reject ballots lawfully submitted, accept ballots submitted from any source other than the electors duly chosen by the states, or say or do anything else to alter the final outcome of the vote count.  His legally assigned role was strictly ministerial and ceremonial; he had no discretion.  So what’s the big deal?

Well, Pence could have tried to take the actions demanded by Trump and his supporters in Congress and in the mob anyway.  Doing so would have been illegal and ineffective in changing the outcome of the electoral vote.  But he would still have been proclaimed a great hero among Trump’s supporters in the Republican base and made himself the odds-on favorite to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, should Trump choose not to seek it. 

But as it is, Pence, for the time being, must settle for the accolades of, of all people, Democrats.  To be certain, Democratic praise has been lavish.  One of the Democratic representatives serving as an impeachment manager (prosecutor) said, “Vice President Mike Pence showed us what it means to be an American, what it means to show courage.  He put his country, his oath, his values and his morals above the will of one man.”  Another House manager said, “Even though the count resulted in the defeat of his party and his own candidacy, Vice President Pence had the courage to stand against the president, tell the American public the truth and uphold our Constitution.”

How sincere this praise may be is open to question.  Remember, these are Democrats offering it, and Democrats only praise Republicans who say and do things that favor Democrats.  Democrats relentlessly charged Barack Obama’s two Republican opponents for the presidency, John McCain and Mitt Romney, with their all-purpose smear, “racism,’ until McCain and Romney emerged as opponents of Trump.  Should Pence actually win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, no doubt the Democrats will revert to their usual anti-Pence litany of accusations:  He’s a homophobic bigot, a religious zealot, a sexual weirdo—he refuses to be alone with any woman other than his wife—and a bauble-headed toady constantly nodding in agreement with everything his Master said.

Yet the Democrats’ praise of Pence, however insincere it may be, is not necessarily unjustified.  He truly does seem to have put devotion to the law above his personal political ambitions and even his personal health and safety as well.  It’s too bad Republicans have not yet acknowledged this and that his presidential ambitions may suffer at the hands of those who think he should have danced at the end of the rope on the Capitol Hill gallows.

Should further investigation of 1/6 confirm the truth of the Democrats’ description of Mike Pence, then he surely will have earned the praise of all who believe in the rule of law, “though the heavens fall.”  Whether he’ll actually win that praise from sources sincerely believing in his merit and virtue is a different matter.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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