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Chief Justice Roberts gives the oath of office? Really?

The Constitution says that a president-elect becomes the president automatically, at the stroke of noon on the appointed day, meaning that Barack Obama was already president when he took the oath of office. I suppose he could have recited the Boy Scout oath, or ''Jabberwocky,'' and he still would have been president.

But the oath is a comforting and important ritual -- even more comforting when it's posed correctly. The flub by Chief Justice John Roberts, who recited it from memory, showed that I guess even the strictest constructionist should always write it down, just in case. Legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen is quoted as saying that Chief Justice William Howard Taft messed it up when he swore in Herbert Hoover -- and as a former president himself, Taft should have known better.

What struck me, though, was the way Roberts ended the oath. The language of the oath, in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, does not include ''so help me God.'' Presidents have added that part themselves ever since FDR. But the Chief Justice, instead of simply stating that phrase, like the rest of the oath, for the president-elect to restate himself, made it into a question -- ``So help you God?'' -- as if he were interrogating Obama about whether he does believe in God.

Maybe that was a nervous outcome of Roberts' earlier flub. But the Q-and-A tone of it rang unhappily on the ear.   


Comments () | Archives (26)

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B. Rubalcava

So if you already said that it is not in the Constitution, and that it is added, so Roberts added whatever he wanted. What is the difference? Using your own words, he could ask if Obama was a boy scout. You do not like he asked Obama if he believe in God; if he would not had ask the question but only repeating what other had done, still if Obama said "help me God" it says that Obama is saying that there is a God even if he does not believe in God. What you are saying to all Americans is that you do not like that God is in our government, but do you know what? God was in the government of this country since the very beginning, just read any historic book and biographies of he founding fathers. People like you are the ones trying to erase what cannot be erased, so Help me God¡

J Kidd

Tradinionally, chief justices have posed the "help you God" prompt as a question. CJs also used to prompt the presidents in the second person e.g.: that "you" will faithfully execute...


I think the justice was as happy and filled with childlike hope as everybody else and he wasn't in his elite law school perfection ten error rule place. No harm meant I suspect.

Esha Doshi

David Rice Atchison's "presidency" is an example of how the oath of office is merely a ceremonial procedure. The swearing in of a president is more like New Year's Eve where one should watch the clock instead of waiting for an oath to be taken.
It is a terrible thing, as stated by Colin Powell, that the American people need to be reassured that the president is a "good Christian man," as all have portrayed themselves. Having a lesbian who has had an abortion in office would really prove to me that America can see beyond the past and appreciate the decisions, not the personal life, that define an effective president. Morality is an amazing thing to have but, at the end of the day, bad policy has more of an impact on the Americans' daily lives than amoral personal behavior. Every president has made mistakes but public action makes a good presidency. Disregarding or not recognizing this fact can shape Americans' lives for the worse during a president's term in office.

Give me a break

Trying to make something out of nothing. Talk about reaching. This is drivel.

Esha Doshi

I noticed the mistakes and cringed with you, Patt Morrison.

Yay Obama

Who cares?


Did Ronald Regan mess it up too?


You read the Constitution--really?? Becasue the US Constitution states nothing of the Boy Scout Oath, but it does state that the President Elect must take the oath of office. Oh that pesky Article II, section 1 that you failed to comprehend. The oath is much more than a "ritual." It's law...and he would remain President Elect until the oath was taken. As it states,"Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:"

George Bush

I'm still waiting for a Black Lesbian who has had an abortion to be president...then I will know America has achieved "The Dream."


The liberal media is seathing that bush is gone. They have no one to bash anymore. So you guys search for something as inane as this to point out. Its laughable

rcmp vern

"Tradinionally, chief justices have posed the "help you God" prompt as a question."
Posted by: J Kidd


On youtube, look up:
George W Bush oath of office, Bill Clinton oath of office, George H W Bush oath of office, Ronald Reagan oath of office, Jimmy Carter oath of office, Gerald Ford oath of office, Richard Nixon oath of office, Lynden Johnson oath of office, JFK oath of office, Eisenhower oath of office, Truman oath of office.
Never was posed as a question, whether it was "So help you God" or "So help me God"


Thank you Patt Morrison for wasting a minute of my life that I'll never get back.

Fred Bassett

The Chief Justice should not read "So help you God" as a statement or a question. It should not be in the oath of office at all. The words to the oath are in the Constitution and should be read as written there. If the incoming President wants to add "So help me God" at the end of the oath, that is his or her personal choice. This is a simple concept, but one evidently hard for some religious ideologues to understand.

Ron Sampson

It appears that Roberts was noticeably distracted and annoyed by Antonini Scalia's crazy hat!


@Savannah- No, he's the President at 12:00 noon. He simply cannot perform any duties of the Presidency until the oath is taken. So, yes the oath is required, but he should have been referred to as "Mr. President", not "Senator" by the Chief Justice before he took the oath since it was 12:05 pm.


I think the Chief Justus was so flustered by his first error that he just kept making thm. We have all had that happen under pressure. President Obama gave him a break, so can we.

Carol Mello

I think we should give Roberts a break. He flubbed. He was nervous. This is his first time as CJ that he has had to swear in a president. Roberts had to perform in front of nearly 2 million live people. Even if he had it written down, he still might have flubbed. Sounds like stage fright to me and I don't think we should read any more into it than that.

A lefty (left-handed and left of center)


un, the President signs the oath right along with his first paperwork. The public oath is not needed.

Jeff Allen

For a guy from the Atlanta reading this LA Times blog is actually really funny. Out here, we're under the impression that all of you guys in LA are Obama lovers and left-wing loonies. However, this blog has given me hope for you. From the responses, the liberal LA Times readers are outnumbered 5 to 1. And the 5 are sounding a LOT more intelligent and less threatened (and threatening) than the 1. I'm surprised the author of this piece actually signed it - it's almost laughable. No, it is laughable...and I'm laughing - right now.
You got what you want Patt - question or statement, it's done. The savior is in the oval office. No one will get sick anymore. My glass is always going to be full - as well as my gas tank. The rich get to share all their earnings with common folk. Let it go Patt - George is back in Texas (for which I am as thankful he is gone as you are). Let it go. Relax.
Now, excuse me while I get back to my glass of sweet tea.

Art in LA

I think that Roberts was just being vindictive in regards that HE was not favored by OBAMA. But...it did not work...IT, worked against him. We see his true colors and we'll be on looking a lot more closely at his actions.


How much faith can we have in a chief justice who had ample time to prepare and still not be able to remember 35 or so words?

rcmp vern

Roberts said
"so help you God?" again when he re-did the swearing-in ceremony today.
Does that make him a fool for clinging to his own individual style?
If that's his excuse, he makes Rehnquist, with his Gilbert and Sullivan-style robe, seem unpretentious.
Are right-wingers still trying to cast doubt over whether Obama is a Christian?

Does Roberts know that he is the only one to say it this way since television sets became popular in the U.S.?
Has anyone bothered to look up Truman through Dubya to check my research yet?
Check my post eleven posts back.


Recited from memory? Justice Roberts had a piece of white paper in his hands while he was reciting the oath of office to President-Elect Obama... what was on the paper...TIC TAC TOE?? No, of course it was what he had to say, AND HE STILL SCREWED IT UP! And this man is the CHIEF JUSTICE of our Supreme Court!!??!! Give me a break..I understand nerves, but this is ridiculous! President elect Obama KNEW that Roberts screwed it up, paused giving the idiot time to fix it, BUT HE DIDN'T!!! Can we send this idiot to Texas with the other idiot that put him there???? PLEASE???????????!!!!!!!!!!


What if instead of pausing, President Obama said "Don't Roberts Me, Chief!"

schon shea

The tradition of ,"So help me GOD",came from George Washington,he coined that term,he also kissed the Bible.I have no problem with that,neither should anyone else who has been blessed to be in this country.



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