Civics license should be required to hold federal office

Most professions require demonstrated proficiency in the practice for which an applicant seeks to become licensed. Medical doctors must hold degrees in medicine and pass state-licensing exams before they may deliver medical services to the public. Similar licensing requirements are imposed on lawyers, psychologists, architects, engineers and teachers, to name a few.

Most states also require licenses by those seeking to act as realtors or contractors, even cosmetologists. Each must pass a general proficiency test for their craft before being foisted on the general public. Some professions even require periodic re-examination and or mandatory continuing education in order for licensees to remain in good standing.


Such proof of relevant basic proficiency is not, however, required for those seeking federal elective office. Although one would think that such persons should possess fundamental knowledge of civics — how our system of government operates — such is not a legal requirement nor does it appear to be understood by many of those currently serving in leadership positions within our federal government.

Indeed, our federal Constitution contains no such qualifying requirement for congressional candidates or those seeking the office of president/vice president. (See U.S., Const., Art. I, §§ 2 and 3, cls. 2 and 3; Art. II, § 1, cl. 5; and 12th Amendment).

Yet, basic knowledge of our system’s democratic institutional organization, its powers and its limitations are compelled by law for those seeking citizenship through the naturalization process. Among the general requirements for naturalization are an ability to read, write, and speak basic English, have a basic understanding of U.S. history and government (civics), be a person of good moral character, and demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

A pocket study guide published by the Department of Homeland Security entitled “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services” (M-1122; 01/17) states: “When you naturalize, you agree to accept all of the responsibilities of becoming a U.S. citizen. You agree to support the United States, its Constitution, and its laws.”

That same publication includes 100 sample civics (history and government) questions and answers for a candidate to review in preparation for the naturalization test. The civics portion of the test is an oral exam during which each applicant is asked up to 10 of those 100 civics questions.

It would seem reasonable to expect candidates for public office to demonstrate similar proficiencies before seeking positions of public trust, positions which grant them extraordinary powers.


Each of us should test ourselves on those same subject areas as is required of those who wish to become United States citizens. Then consider, as a modest proposal, amending our Constitution so as to require similar proficiencies from those who aspire to elective federal public office.

Edward H. Schulman is an attorney in Kailua-Kona.