Each year, the British monarch opens parliament with a speech. Once seated in the House of Lords, he or she sends “Black Rod” to summon the members of the House of Commons. As Black Rod approaches the House of Common, the door is slammed in before him to symbolize the independence of the House of Commons. He must knock to be allowed in. (This stems from 1642, when King Charles I stormed into the House of Commons in an unsuccessful attempt to arrest the five members for treason. Since that time, no British monarch has entered the House of Commons when it is meeting.) Did you know that the President of the United States must be invited to Congress to give his State of the Union Address? Some are suggesting that Congress make a not so subtle statement about the separation of powers next year by making President Obama give his speech somewhere else. Though it would be an unprecedented congressional response to unprecedented presidential acts, such symbolic protests to usurpations are not without precedent in our Anglo-American tradition.
Slamming the Door on the King November 21, 2014