The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Congressman-elect to be sworn in on the Constitution — and a Superman comic

Rep.-elect Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) attends a news conference with current and incoming Congressional Progressive Caucus members in Washington on Nov. 13. (Elizabeth Frantz for The Washington Post)
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When Rep.-elect Robert Garcia, an incoming congressman from California, takes his oath of office, he will be sworn in on the Constitution — and, beneath it, a stack of mementos including a vintage Superman comic from 1939.

Garcia, a Democrat from Long Beach, Calif., and a vocal comic book fan, was set to be sworn in Tuesday, but the ceremonies were postponed after House Republicans failed to elect a speaker.

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Garcia tweeted Tuesday that when he is sworn in, underneath a copy of the Constitution will be three items “that mean a lot to me personally”: “A photo of my parents who I lost to covid, my citizenship certificate & an original Superman #1,” checked out from the Library of Congress.

Garcia immigrated to California from Lima, Peru, with his family when he was 5 years old, and has described becoming a U.S. citizen as “his proudest moment” and the reason he went into public service. He served as the mayor of Long Beach before running for Congress.

His mother, a health-care worker, and stepfather died of covid-19 in 2020, while he was mayor. The deaths spurred him to expand testing and vaccination efforts in his city, according to his campaign website. A representative for Garcia did not respond to an interview request.

Although the Superman comic may seem like an outlier among the other documents, Garcia has been outspoken about the deeper meaning behind his fondness for the superhero. When DC Comics confirmed in 2021 that the new Superman was bisexual, Garcia, who is openly gay, said he “became a Superman fan as a kid because I related to him. An immigrant, a sense of justice, and a secret identity.” (Superman’s story has been described as that of an immigrant’s. In the comics, he comes to the United States from the fictional planet Krypton.)

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“Superman No. 1,” the first issue of the character’s ongoing series, was published in 1939, a year after he made his debut in Action Comics.

In November, Garcia tweeted a photo of the comic alongside “Amazing Fantasy No. 15,” the first appearance of Spider-Man, and said he was “going to have a hard time deciding which one to check out first” from the Library of Congress. He added that “anyone who understands comics knows that comics are an essential part of American fiction. And the lessons learned are invaluable.”

While the Superman comic may be an unusually colorful text — literally, and in spirit — to be used for an oath of office, doing so is perfectly legal. Elected officials don’t have to be sworn in on a Bible, as Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

When Keith Ellison, a Democrat who is now Minnesota’s attorney general, was sworn in as the first Muslim member of Congress in 2007, he took his oath on a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Since then, other Muslim representatives have also taken the oath on a copy of the religious text.

Still, the myth of the Bible’s necessity for such ceremonies has endured and was at the center of a viral 2017 interview between CNN anchor Jake Tapper and the spokesman for Roy Moore, a Republican who was running to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate. The spokesman, Ted Crockett, had defended Moore’s statements that Muslims should not be allowed in Congress by incorrectly stating that taking an oath on a Bible was a legal precursor to serving in the federal legislature. Crockett was speechless when Tapper informed him that was not the case.

Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office in 1901 without swearing upon any text or object, because the ceremony was rushed through in the wake of President William McKinley’s assassination.

And in a modern twist, Suzi LeVine in 2014 took her oath to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein on a Kindle e-reader. She told the New Yorker of her decision to use the device, opened to a copy of the Constitution: “I wanted to use a copy that is from the twenty-first century, and that reflects my passion for technology and my hope for the future.”