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January 20th, 2009
04:56 PM ET

An awkward oath of office for Roberts, Obama

Joe Sterling
CNN Newsdesk Editor

Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts and President Barack Obama bobbled a biblical moment on the world stage during the 35-word oath of office Tuesday.

First there was a bad handoff. Obama spoke his name before Roberts finished the line Obama was to repeat.

Then Roberts made a couple of rhetorical fumbles, incorrectly reciting one of the lines of the swearing-in.

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."

The first glitch occurred when Obama spoke before Roberts completed his line.

Roberts started out, "I Barack Hussein Obama," and at that point Obama jumped to repeat those words. But Roberts wasn't finished:

Roberts: I, Barack Hussein Obama ...

Obama: I, Barack –

Roberts: ... do solemnly swear ...

Obama: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear ...

Then it was Roberts' turn to flub. He incorrectly recited the next phrase, putting the word "faithfully" at the end and using "to" instead of "of":

Obama smiled and paused as he seemed to recognize the wording was out of order, and then but repeated Roberts, who at the same time attempted to correct himself.

Roberts: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully ...

Obama: ... that I will execute ...

Roberts: ... the off - faithfully the pres - the office of president of the United States ...

Obama: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully ...

The two got the rest correct, including the non-obligatory "So help you God?" "So help me God."

The swearing-in was viewed by millions who saw Obama take the oath with a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inaugural.

The Supreme Court spokeswoman had no comment on the mixup.


Filed under: Barack Obama • Inauguration
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Gregg

    I think we should go back and do the whole thing all over again. Can we bring everybody back? ha ha

    January 21, 2009 at 12:41 pm |
  2. MIchael Moorman

    Is "so help me God?" correct? The president-elect is swearing (or affirming) an oath not promising to tell the truth as the phrase is used in a court of law.

    Previous media reports noted that for the first time the Chief Justice would be administering the oath to someone who had voted against his confirmation and who could over the next eight years reduce the Chief Justice to a permanent minority status in the Court

    I can't believe such considerations were among the Chief Justice's conscious thoughts, but it is strange that he would make some many mistakes.

    January 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm |
  3. Ashley

    Umm...This moment was an interesting and funny part of the inauguration, something which showed the humanness of Barack Obama. Just because he was nervous, as any normal person would be in that situation, and fumbled his words does not mean his bubble has been pricked or that his character should be called into question!

    January 20, 2009 at 6:44 pm |
  4. Arachnae

    Felt like the constitution was being offended.

    Oh please. The constitution was offended many times in the past eight years but this wasn't one of those times.

    January 20, 2009 at 6:23 pm |
  5. Trudi Berglin

    I don't doubt that both men knew the oath. And it shows they are human beings just like you and me. Gave it a human touch and something to talk about and the fact they both have great smiles. Chill people, it will only get even better.

    January 20, 2009 at 6:14 pm |
  6. LaTosha Johnson

    Shouldn't a Chief Justice know this by heart?! That's got to be emabarassing!

    January 20, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  7. rk

    Too quick and way too many words at the same time. This was bound to happen. I was worried even when Biden was taking the oath.

    A query/suggestion – why can't both (i.e. a CJ & PE, and for the VPE as well) read the oath off a paper? with breaks included?

    It was quite a mess up. Felt like the constitution was being offended.

    January 20, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  8. Vaughan

    Not really ironic at all, actually. He was given the wrong words to repeat and in trying to repeat them back, flubbed it. If a couple misspoken words are the first prick in the bubble, we should've seen GW's bubble bursting long before he even got into office.

    January 20, 2009 at 6:08 pm |
  9. Teresa, OH

    hmmmm.... odd if nothing else. It says more about Roberts than anything else.

    What a beautiful swearing in that should have been...but true to Obama's character : he pressed on. It is finished and so it begins.

    January 20, 2009 at 6:05 pm |
  10. Will Buckley

    My 4th graders learned this oath today and I am sure they would have done it perfectly.

    It is more Ironic that he is so well spoken, to make such a mistake. tsk..tsk.

    Are we seeing the first prick in his bubble. At least the comedians have something to joke about. I bet they won't pick on Big O. Poor Roberts!

    January 20, 2009 at 5:59 pm |
  11. Cori from Colorado

    That was funny!

    January 20, 2009 at 5:49 pm |
  12. JC- Los Angeles

    It should come as no surprise that President Obama tried to argue, I mean read, both sides of the ledger.

    Although I voted for President Obama, he needs to check his constitutional law persona and his penchant for arguing both sides of issues at the White House front door and make tough decisions.

    We are all counting on him to do so.

    January 20, 2009 at 5:47 pm |
  13. Jenn/Monrovia, CA

    Oh well, like weddings, not everything can be perfect. And in the grand scheme of things, I think that a bit of a mix up is OK.

    January 20, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  14. Larry

    That will be Roberts legacy, that he scewed up in front of billions of people around the world.

    January 20, 2009 at 5:43 pm |
  15. David Jones, Las Vegas NV

    Mistakes happen to the best of us, especially on a stage as big as this one. Not to mention the fact that it was the first time for both President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts.

    January 20, 2009 at 5:22 pm |
  16. Heather,ca

    I say give the man a break. I do recall a very sick chief justice that Bush knew made it there just to swear him in for a second term and Bush knew it.He repeated in record time as fast as he could the oath and that was it. Though you would think he would have memorized it or had it in front of him to read . I feel bad for him. This is done only every four years and he never did it before. Oh well no one is perfect not even members of the supreme court.

    January 20, 2009 at 5:22 pm |
  17. Chris Potter

    I think that President Obama was nervous during the swearing in process, so wanted to make sure he got it right. Sometimes it can be difficult repeating a long sentence when you are nervous. And I'm certain that his flub caused Justice Roberts to flub as well. But what's done is done! President Obama has been sworn in.

    January 20, 2009 at 5:14 pm |
  18. JH

    A line by line analysis? Was this really necessary?

    January 20, 2009 at 5:07 pm |
  19. Cindy

    I think that they both were very nervous. So the slip ups by both of them is understandable. It's no biggie!!

    Cindy...Ga.

    January 20, 2009 at 5:03 pm |