Fighting in a duel? Kentucky's bizarre constitutional rule still in effect

Kentucky's bizarre constitutional rule still in effect
Published: Nov. 12, 2015 at 3:42 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 27, 2015 at 4:09 AM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As Matt Bevin and other politicians get sworn into office, they have to make an interesting promise; that they've never fought in a duel.

"It is bizarre," University of Louisville law professor Kurt Metzmeier said.

It's possibly the strangest part of Kentucky's Constitution, but almost half of the oath for elected officials and attorneys are promises about not fighting in a duel with deadly weapons.

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"People don't expect this silly language," Metzmeier said. "It often takes a very solemn occasion like swearing in a new governor and makes it kind of silly."

Even Rand Paul made a reference to the crazy oath during an interview with ABC where he was questioned about plagiarizing his speeches.

"If they keep it up, it'd be a duel challenge but I can't do that because I can't hold office in Kentucky then," he said.

Metzmeier said the strange oath has an interesting history.

"Early on in Kentucky history, there was a history of honor," Metzmeier said.

Early on in the 1790s, a law and fine of $500, or about $15,000 today, was put in place to stop duels, but they didn't work.

"Henry Clay was involved in duels. Pretty much every politician had been challenged or involved in a duel," Metzmeier said. ""Abraham Lincoln once was challenged to a duel and accepted it, but he chose as a weapon cow pies at 10 paces."

Finally in 1850, it was added to the Constitution.

"They figured the one thing that public people in Kentucky, that would worry them, not a fine, not going court, but would be not being able to be an attorney or not being able to run for office," Metzmeier said.

There was an attempt to change the oath in 1890 when the state passed a new constitution, but it failed and it's tough to amend.

"The process is too cumbersome," Metzmeier said.

To amend the Kentucky constitution requires a 3/5 majority in both houses and then a vote by the general public.

"Maybe it's about that time, even if it's difficult," Metzmeier said.

As long as the statue has been around, it's never actually been used against anyone.

The last time Kentucky actually went through the difficult process of amending it was to make hunting part of its Bill of Rights. 

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