The Oath

There isn’t much to be said about today’s flubbed oath that hasn’t been said already.

Jan Crawford Greenburg points out that an oath of office flub isn’t unprecedented:

It’s worth pointing out that Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been President himself, also flubbed the oath when he was swearing in Herbert Hoover in 1929. When Taft administered the oath, he said, “preserve, maintain and defend the Constitution,” instead of “preserve, PROTECT, and defend.” So where Roberts flipped a couple of words, Taft substituted an entirely new one.

People across the internet have been arguing whether it was Obama or Roberts’ fault. For what its worth, I think if Roberts hadn’t made his first mistake, Obama certainly would not have misspoken when it was his turn.

Professor Ken Katin argues that Barack Obama might not actually be our first African-American President:

(1) The 20th Amendment provides that “[t]he terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January. . . . ”

(2) Art II., Sec. 1 Cl. 8 provides that “[b]efore he enter on the Execution of his Office, [The President] shall take the following oath. . . ”

(3) President Obama did not take the Oath of Office until about 12:03 pm today, after Vice President Biden took it at about 12:01 p.m. (Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman were still fiddling at noon).

(4) Therefore, there was a brief window (just after noon) when George Bush and Dick Cheney were no longer President and Vice President, but Barack Obama and Joe Biden also were not yet qualified to enter on the Execution of their offices.

(5) The Presidential Succession Act, 3 U.S.C. sec. 19(a)(1), provides: “If, by reason of . . . failure to qualify, there is neither a President nor Vice President to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President.” Section 19(b) states that the President Pro Tempore of the Senate shall act as President (under the same terms and conditions) if the Speaker of the House fails to qualify.

(6) Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Robert Byrd actually resigned their seats in the Congress. Thus, neither of them qualified to become Acting President under the Presidential Succession Act. Plus, interbranch appointments might be unconstitutional anyhow. See Akhil Reed Amar and Vikram David Amar, Is the Presidential Succession Law Constitutional?, 48 Stan. L. Rev. 113 (1995); but see Howard Wasserman, Structural Principles and Presidential Succession, 90 Ky. L.J. 345 (2002).

(7) Section 19(d)(1) of the Presidential Succession Act provides: “If, by reason of . . . failure to qualify, there is no President pro tempore to act as President under subsection (b) of this section, then the officer of the United States who is highest on the following list, and who is not under disability to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President shall act as President: Secretary of State . . . ”

(8) Notably, Section 19(d)(1) does not condition the Secretary of State’s assumption of the powers and duties of the office of President on resignation of her current office, nor does elevation of the Secretary of State raise any constitutional issue of interbranch appointment.

(9) The term of office of the Secretary of State does not automatically terminate at noon on the 20th day of January.

(10) On January 20, 2009, Condoleeza Rice was (and is) still the Secretary of State.

(11) Accordingly, from 12:00 noon until 12:01 p.m. (when Vice President Biden took the oath of office and became Vice President), Condoleeza Rice was momentarily the Acting President of the United States, our first African-American President.

The whole theory is mute because Biden was actually sworn in just short of 12:00 so he was the acting President (assuming Obama wasn’t.)

Update: Lyle Denniston points out another important thing: It would be almost impossible to find standing to sue. No district court would grant someone standing to sue Obama and if they did, it would be reversed in a summary judgement by the Court of Appeals and lost in cert. petition at the Supreme Court.


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