Strict constructionist Chief Justice flubs oath, Obama presidency survives unscathed

Dennis Baron debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU
Wed Jan 21 06:21:28 UTC 2009

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Strict constructionist Chief Justice flubs oath, Obama presidency
survives unscathed

Article II, sec. i of the U.S. Constitution prescribes the
presidential oath of office: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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."
But Chief Justice Roberts, who administered the oath to Barak Obama,
is a strict constructionist and didn't feel the need to bring the
Constitution along to the presidential inaugural. Instead, Roberts
spoke from memory, flubbing the oath by asking Pres. Obama to repeat
the phrase, "that I will execute the office of President to the United
States faithfully."

Roberts, who seems to have inherited his linguistic mangling from the
president who appointed him, made two errors.  He said "President to
the United States," and he moved the adverb faithfully to the end of
the sentence.

Roberts corrected the to when he repeated the phrase, but faithfully
continued to wander around the 35-word oath, both when Roberts said it
and when Obama repeated it. This failure to adhere to the letter of
the Constitution will certainly prompt stricter constructionists than
the Chief Justice to wonder whether Obama is really our 44th president
after all. . . .

Find out how to resolve this first constitutional crisis of the Obama
presidency. Read the rest of the post on the Web of Language.

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

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