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US Politics

Inaugural Rough Justice

The Chief Justice even began with a mistake, “Are you prepared to take the oath Senator?” – Senator?

A Flawed Lead

In the process of delivering the oath of office to President elect Barack Obama at the 2009 presidential inauguration ceremony, the Chief Justice of the United States, John G Roberts misled Mr Obama with the words: “that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.”


Noting the inaccuracies regarding the oath as it is written in the constitution, President elect Obama, a former professor and lecturer in constitutional law, paused, seeking an amendment from the Chief Justice, however none was forthcoming. As a result the inaugural oath was improperly taken.

More Error

In erring, Chief Justice Roberts had placed the world “faithfully” in the wrong  sequence and substituted “to” for “of”. As if to add insult to injury, Justice Roberts also began with a titular error when first addressing the President elect. It occurred when he posed the  question, “Are you prepared to take the oath Senator?”. Senator? It is a matter of public record that Barack Obama had resigned from the US Senate on16th November 2008. 

Commencement of the Inaugural oath Ceremony – 20th January 2009

Chief Justice Roberts:  “Are you prepared to take the oath Senator?”

President elect Obama: “I am”

The Taking of the oath of Office as Recorded on C-Span – 20th January 2009 

“I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear”

“I Barack Hussein Obama do solemly swear”

“That I will execute the office of president to the united states faithfully

That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States

“That I will execute” 

That I will faithfully execute

“Faithfully the office of president of the United States”

That I will execute faithfully the office of the president of the United States

“The office of President of the United states faithfully”

The office of president of the United States              

“And will to the best of my ability”

“And will to the best of my ability”

  “Preserve protect and defend the constitution of the United States”

“Preserve protect and defend the constitution of the United States”

” So help you God”

“So help me God”

“Congratulations Mr President”


The Actual Oath of Office

As required by the US Constitution, Article 2, section 1, clause 8 specifies that the wording of the oath shall be, “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.”

The Oath retaken January 21st 2009

The oath of office was retaken by President Barack H Obama after being correctly delivered by the US Chief Justice John G Roberts at the White House on 21st January 2009.

The oath comprises only 35 words. Why not inscribe it on a permanent tablet to eliminate any such slip ups and possible embarrassment in the future?



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  1. John–

    You are right on all but one item–addressing him as Senator. Traditionally, after leaving office, former office holders are addressed by title of the highest office they held, e.g., Walter Mondale, though former Senator and Ambassador, is addressed as Vice-President.

    I think everything else that Roberts has said in that office is wrong, but that he is correct on that one item.

    I understand, however having won the general election, “President elect” (a higher status) was regarded as the current and correct protocol for addressing Obama in the interim prior to his officially becoming President. However Patrick, I take your well made point. JH.


    Posted by Patrick L Coleman | January 23, 2009, 8:33 am
  2. John,

    I agree about the inappopriate way the Chief Justice addressed Mr. Obama. He should have used President Elect if he wanted to use a title. It was a putdown to use Senator, not only because he resigned the post, but that he had already ascended to a higher level, and technically, since it was 5 minutes past noon, he was already officially Mr. President.

    My husband is also a constitutional law scholar/professor and he said the presidential oath is the only part of the constitution enclosed in quotation marks which means it must be said exactly as written. President Obama knew CJ Roberts was incorrect, I believe CJ Roberts doesn’t really like the idea of a President Obama because he had one simple thing to do and he botched it. In the end I believe this reflects badly on CJ Roberts.

    Editor: That is correct. In an inauguration year the President elect automatically assumes the office of President at noon on January 20th even if the oath has not been taken beforehand. Thank you for your most informative comment. JH

    Posted by Elle in MI | January 23, 2009, 11:05 am
  3. John
    I’m glad you addressed this, because it was truly a shame that Chief Justice Roberts let such an important event be spoiled so to speak. Chief Justice Roberts did not make a public comment on the matter that I have heard and I think he should apologize publicly, if not privately, which he may have done. He should not have depended on his memory, no matter how intelligent he is. This was a far too important occasion for “President elect” Barack Obama amid the millions of people watching around the world. I felt very bad that President Barack Obama had that happen to him. It was uncomfortable and awkward for all, but he handled it so graciously as we all knew he would.

    Posted by Colette Jurcevich | January 23, 2009, 11:26 am
  4. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts made a mistake during the swearing in of Barack Obama.

    That’s the second mistake the Supreme Court has made with a president, if you count the time they declared Bush the winner.

    – Jay Leno

    Posted by Tricia | January 23, 2009, 12:46 pm
  5. John…Unless he was aware of the time when he asked President Obama if he were ready to take the oath, he was correct to refer to him as Senator. If you look back (most news media outlets have them listed), you will see that all previous Presidents were addressed by their prior elected office. For example, Ike was addressed as General and in their first inaugurations both Clinton and Bush were addressed as Governor.

    The point of whether the Chief Justice knew the time it a telling one. It was started at 12:05 so Obama was already de facto President at the time. Both men showed a tremendous amount of class in how they have handled this and they seem to have formed a fast friendship that can only help our country down the road.

    Posted by Rev. Donald "Skull" Powell | January 24, 2009, 2:07 am
  6. Is all this necessary?
    Typical of us to judge when others make a mistake.

    He is already president because it was past the witching hour, and anything after that was simply protocol.
    All of you are right except for the silly chief justice.

    Editor: The constitution requires that the wording of the oath be precisely followed. That is why the oath was retaken the following day in order to stricly conform with the requirements of the constitution. An aspect which is not simply a matter of adherence to protocol. When the Chief Justice of the United States makes such an elementary blunder regarding the matter of correctly interpreting the wording of a segment the US Constitution, people have every right and indeed a civic responsibility to critique his performance. JH

    Posted by Antonio castillo | January 24, 2009, 2:46 am