UPDATE: Roberts re-administers Obama swearing-in
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Wednesday January 21, 2009

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UPDATE: In an "abundance of caution," Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. has once again administered President Obama's swearing-in as they stood in the Map Room of the White House, the New York Times reported Wednesday evening.


Following the slightly mangled oath of office administered to Barack Obama by Chief Justice John Roberts -- in which the single word "faithfully" was misplaced -- discussion of the flub has become a minor online obsession.

President Obama himself waved off the incident, saying, "We were up there, weve got a lot of stuff on our minds. He actually, I think, helped me out on a couple of stanzas there. Overall, I think it went relatively smoothly and Im very grateful to him."

Despite Obama's making light of the event, Roberts was razzed for it by New York Magazine, in an item titled, "Chief Justice Roberts Ruins Perfectly Nice Ceremony." The New York Observer took a similar tone, suggesting, "A conspiracy theorist might say that Chief Justice John Roberts, perhaps George W. Bush's most conservative and most lasting contribution to American life, was trying to psyche out Barack Obama by intentionally mangling the syntax of the oath of office as he administered it to the new president."

Along with scattered voices on the web, one analyst for MSNBC went so far as to propose that the Chief Justice be impeached for the flub.

"There is simply no excuse," Craig Crawford wrote in his Huffington Post blog, "for United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts bungling the presidential oath of office to such an extent that Barack Obama might need to do it again, at least in private, to ensure the legality of his inauguration. Roberts should be impeached and removed from office for this unforgivable error."

On the other side of the issue, some observers expressed fears that the flub might actually create problems for the newly-inaugurated president. Columnist E.J. Dionne wrote, "Standing in the crowd in front of the Capitol and watching all this, I had a terrible fear that if Obama had followed Roberts down the road to error, some conservative legal group, with massive support from conservative talk radio, would have brought a lawsuit arguing that Obama's presidency was illegitimate because he hadn't properly recited the oath."

Fox News's Chris Wallace seemed to give weight to these fears when he suggested on Tuesday, "I'm not sure that Barack Obama really is the president of the United States, because the oath of office is set in the Constitution. And I wasn't at all convinced that even after he tried to amend it that John Roberts ever got it out straight and that Barack Obama ever said the prescribed words. I suspect that everybody is going to forgive him and allow him to take over as president, but I'm not sure he actually said what's in the Constitution there."

However, a legal blogger at Scotus Blog points out that both the president and the Chief Justice enjoy legal immunity against being sued in court for their official actions, which would arguably include the administration of the oath of office. In addition, the courts would be unlikely to grant legal standing to any would-be claimant, who "would have to show that they had a personal stake in a correctly recited oath, that their interests were harmed by the mistake, and that a court decision could remedy that harm."

At this point, there seem to be more liberal blogs making fun of the idea of any challenge to Obama's presidency over the swearing-in than there are conservative blogs seriously endorsing it. Whiskey Fire, for example, wrote in fake-conservate mockery -- under the tag Wingnuttery -- "I'm really surprised that anyone was taken in for a moment by Obama and Roberts 'flubbing' the oath of office. Obama knows perfectly well that he is not an American citizen and so cannot legally take the oath. This little charade he played out with Roberts was obviously designed to cover up the fraud. Now we know why the Supreme Court refused to hear the birth certificate case -- Roberts was in on it from the beginning. I mean, duh."

On a more serious note, constitutional experts like Jonathan Turley are suggesting that it might not hurt for Obama to settle any doubts simply by retaking the oath. "He should probably go ahead and take the oath again," Turley stated. "If he doesn't, there are going to be people who for the next four years are going to argue that he didn't meet the constitutional standard. I don't think it's necessary, and it's not a constitutional crisis. This is the chief justice's version of a wardrobe malfunction."

There are precedents for a re-do in the examples of two vice presidents, Calvin Coolidge and Chester Alan Arthur, who both succeeded to the office following the president's death, were quickly administered the oath in an unconventional manner, and later repeated it privately.

There is also the case of a more significant mangling that was not re-done. ABC News legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg reports that "Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been President himself, also flubbed the oath when he was swearing in Herbert Hoover in 1929. When Taft administered the oath, he said, 'preserve, maintain and defend the Constitution,' instead of 'preserve, PROTECT, and defend.' So where Roberts flipped a couple of words, Taft substituted an entirely new one."

On Wednesday morning, Fox's Gretchen Carlson was still attempting to ask, "Is he really president? Because there was a flub in the oath of office."

Brian Kilmeade then laughed and suggested that Obama simply shouldn't have hesitated when he realized the mistake on Roberts' part. "You've got to learn to roll with it a little bit," Kilmeade observed. "I never would have picked that up if he'd just repeated it."

Even Carlson, however, finally admitted, "He really still is president -- because we consulted with Dr. Alan Lichtman, who is a professor and a presidential historian at American University. He says, 'You know what? They're not going to have to redo this oath. ... He technically is still president."

Perhaps the ultimate commentary on the incident, however, was offered by a blogger at Daily Kos, who suggested an oath to be sworn by the Chief Justice:

I, Chief Justice John Roberts do solemnly swear,
That I royally fracked up trying to administer the presidential Oath of Office from memory.
That I embarrassed myself and the nation by getting something so simple---something memorized by every boy and girl in, like, second grade---so excruciatingly wrong.
And, in so doing, came within a butt hair of accidentally making Sasha Obama President of the United States.
Not that that would necessarily be a bad thing,
But you have to admit juggling first grade and the presidency might be a bit much for a seven year old.

This video is from Fox News, broadcast Jan. 20, 2009.

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Fox hosts admit oath flub doesn't matter

This video is from Fox's Fox & Friends, broadcast Jan. 21, 2009.

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