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Chief Justice Roberts Will Swear In President Obama, As He Did in 2009

Hopefully without the verbal hiccup of last time that required a do-over.

President Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts will have a second chance to not flub their lines with the 57th inauguration later this month. In fact, as with four years ago, they will go through the ritual of the swearing-in two times—at the White House on Sunday, January 20, and at the Capitol on Monday, January 21.

It was similar but in reverse order in 2009, when at the public swearing-in at the Capitol on January 20, Roberts misspoke the precise words of the oath, which is a legal no-no. The Constitution requires the President to say: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” At the Capitol podium, Roberts said, “… that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully.” The flub caused Obama to stumble a little, too.

But in fairness to the chief justice, it was a very cold day. Even the strings on Yo-Yo Ma’s cello nearly froze. “It was wicked cold,” Ma said. Roberts took responsibility for not acing the oath.

The next evening, January 21, Obama, in a suit, and Roberts, in his judicial robes, met in the White House Map Room, where the oath was redone without a hitch.

“I will be honored to again stand on the inaugural platform and take part in this important American tradition,” said President Obama in a statement issued by the Presidential Inauguration Committee on Friday. “I look forward to having Chief Justice John Roberts administer my oath of office.” The PIC said Justice Sonia Sotomayor will swear in Vice President Joseph Biden.

Inaugural ceremonies are not held on Sunday, which is why Obama and Biden will take the oath on January 20 at the White House—required by law and considered the “official” oath—and then again the next day at the Capitol. The Sunday conflict has happened six times before. Details of the White House swearing-in have not been announced, though it is likely there will be live broadcast coverage.

Due to the redo four years ago, and the fact he has to take the oath twice this year, it makes Obama only the second President to take the oath of office four times. The other was Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected to four terms.

  • Arshad Sherif, M.A., M.Ed.

    Not sure if it's such a good idea for Roberts to be the one administering the presidential oath this time around. He did a lousy job last time around. Last time around was four years ago. He fumbled the oath and Obama made him come to the White House to get it right. If Obama had any respect for the chief justice, he would have gone to him, at the Supreme Court, instead of making the chief justice come to the White House.

    Roberts must be spending countless hours practicing the oath so that he doesn't make any mistakes this time around. But it is not purely a matter of practice and learning. Even if he is well rehearsed, he could still fumble again. This is a high pressure situation. The whole world is watching and the pressure on the two men is enormous. So if Roberts can't handle the pressure, it doesn't matter how well rehearsed he is. He will buckle under the pressure once again and humiliate himself.

    So it is not about how much practice time you put in. It is about how well you can handle the pressure. The chief justice, it seems, doesn't have nerves of steel. And messing up two times in a row can be very costly for John Roberts: he will be labeled a racist. When you fumble twice and twice it is the same Negro, you have a problem. There is enormous pressure on Roberts to get it right this time. But it is precisely this kind of pressure that caused him to falter last time around. This time the pressure is far greater.

    But I do hope that Roberts fumbles again. Or maybe it would be Obama who fumbles this time. We desperately need either or both to fumble. We desperately need something to talk about in social media and in prime time.

    The smart choice for the presidential oath would have been Elena Kagan. A woman with nerves of steel who would not let the pressure get to her. We've seen how well she handles herself in public, even before she became a justice on the Supreme Court. A woman who knows how to handle the pressure and how to relax in front of millions. For the presidential oath, she would be sufficiently relaxed to do a great job. She would not let Obama down. Or the nation.

    Elena Kagan would be perfect. It would be so appealing to watch the most powerful woman in the judiciary administer the oath to the most powerful man in the executive. He placed her on the Court and he made her powerful. By giving him the oath, she would be reciprocating and making him powerful once more. If the bond between them now is tight, it would have become even tighter. It would have become the tightest bond ever between a man and a woman.

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