Chief Justice Roberts to get another go at oath

Friday, January 4, 2013 - 12:30pm

His appearance in the 2009 inauguration is remembered mostly for the awkward moment he bungled the words to the presidential oath of office.

But on Friday, President Barack Obama announced he was giving Chief Justice John Roberts another chance - two in fact - to administer the oath at the president's second inauguration in mid-January.

"I will be honored to again stand on the Inaugural platform and take part in this important American tradition," Obama said in a statement distributed by the committee planning the upcoming event. "I look forward to having Chief Justice John Roberts administer my oath of office as we gather to celebrate not just a president or vice president, but the strength and determination of the American people."

While the chief justice in almost always the person swearing in the president, it isn't a legally mandated post. The president can choose who he wants to perform the task. On Friday, the inaugural committee also announced that Vice President Joe Biden had chosen Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayor to administer his oath.

She'll be the fourth woman to preside over a presidential or vice presidential swearing in - the first was federal judge Sarah T. Hughes, who swore in Lyndon B. Johnson aboard Air Force One following John F. Kennedy's assassination. Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg have both sworn in vice presidents.

Roberts, who was nominated to the high court in 2005 by Republican George W. Bush, became something of a liberal icon this summer after the Supreme Court upheld the lynchpin of Obama's sweeping health care law.

The 5-4 ruling, which came during the heated presidential election, determined the individual insurance mandate was constitutional if viewed as a tax. Roberts himself wrote the majority opinion upholding the measure.

Roberts will actually administer the oath twice in 2013. Since the Constitutionally-mandated Inauguration Day of January 20 falls on a Sunday, there will be two swearing-in ceremonies this year. One will take place in private on Sunday, and the public ceremony will take place on Monday.

Roberts delivered the oath twice in 2009 as well. After Roberts flubbed the order of words during the public ceremony, a do-over took place in the White House Map Room the next day to erase any question that Obama was officially the president.

Roberts, apparently working without a copy of the oath handy on the Capitol steps, started out by reciting a six-word phrase, but Obama broke in halfway through and repeated the first three.

That seemed to throw the chief justice off stride, and he proceeded to mix up the order of the words in the next phrase.

The Constitution sets out the language that should be used in the oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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."

Roberts moved the word "faithfully" back nine spots, and used "to" instead of "of." That threw the president off base, and he smiled and paused to collect his thoughts, then decided to follow Roberts' lead.

In a congressional luncheon after the public swearing-in, Roberts and Obama exchanged words, and the chief justice appeared to tell the president, "It was my fault."



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