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Chatter about the Chief’s misplaced “faith”

obamaswearDespite yesterday’s administration handover in Washington, and all the pomp and circumstance involved, today the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed like any other. There was no real sense that anything had changed – except for the fact that the docket sheet indicated that Edwin Kneedler is now acting solicitor general, replacing Bush’s last appointee Gregory Garre.

But in the press box this morning, the reporters were all atwitter over yesterday’s presidential oath, which was, er, botched a bit by the Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

As reporters waited for the Court to come to session, the Court’s press corps was going over just what caused the Chief and President Barack Obama to have such a tough time with the 35-word oath.

The consensus: Roberts made a mistake in the timing of the oath – rather than pausing after Obama’s name, he continued, interrupting Obama with “do solemnly swear,” tripping up the incoming president a bit. Then he said a line from the oath in the wrong order, sticking the word “faithfully” in the wrong spot. Obama, clearly recognizing the error, sort of paused and nodded. This is when it got thorny.

Roberts tried to repeat the phrase by rearranging the words in the correct order. But instead of placing the “faithfully” back in its rightful place, Roberts mixed the words in a way that was nonsensical: “the office — faithfully the president — the office of president of the United States.”

As one longtime Supreme Court reporter recounted to his colleagues this morning: “He eventually got all the words out, but order was all mangled – like those poetry refrigerator magnets.” That got a laugh from the reporters and the audience members in earshot.

When the justices came into the room and Roberts called the Court to order, however, not another word was uttered about his mishap.


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