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Did Roberts’ Oath Change Cause Obama Stumble?

Posted Jan 20, 2009 12:49 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: President Barack Obama hesitated as he took the oath of office today.

According to an Associated Press account, Obama paused as he was repeating the 35-word oath administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “Roberts helped him over the brief awkward moment, repeating a few words to get Obama back on track,” AP says.

But in its live coverage after the inauguration ceremony, Diane Sawyer of ABC News said Roberts had slightly changed the order of the oath’s words, prompting the hesitation by Obama.

NBC News agrees with its competing network. "Chief Justice John Roberts, using no notes, flubbed his lines, and Obama knew it," its story says.

The oath is supposed to read: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Instead, Roberts said the words: "that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully," putting "faithfully" at the end of the phrase, and substituting the word "to" for "of."

Obama may have contributed to the confusion by jumping in too soon, starting to repeat the oath before Roberts completed the first phrase, the New York Times reports at its Caucus blog.

One blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy, University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter, noted Roberts' change of wording and asked: "A portent of an unusually uneasy relationship between the new administration and the federal judiciary?"

ABC News published the full text of Obama’s address.

More details from Tony Mauro of Legal Times, "Who flubbed the presidential oath?"

As ABAJournal.com reports in a subsequent blog post, Obama did in fact take the oath of office a second time, at the White House, the day after his inauguration.

Updated at 2 p.m. CT to include a link to Legal Times account and updated at 8 p.m. on Jan. 21 to include link to subsequent ABAJournal.com post.

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