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News from the Votemaster

Obama Inaugurated Despite Big Screwup

At 1205 (five minutes late), Barack Obama took the oath of office. The five minutes don't actually matter. By law Barack Obama became President at noon, oath or no oath. A similar situation occurred after President Kennedy's assassination, when Lyndon Johnson didn't take the oath until he got to Air Force One at Love Field. But he was President from the moment Kennedy was pronounced dead.

Much worse was that the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, botched the oath as he gave it. Here is the dialog:

Roberts: "Are you prepared to take the oath, senator?"
Obama: "I am"
Roberts: "I Barack Hussein Obama"
Obama: "I Barack"
Roberts: "do Solemnly swear"
Obama: "I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear"
Roberts: "that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully [sic]"
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"
Roberts: "and will to the best of my ability"
Obama: "and will to the best of my ability"
Roberts: "preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States"
Obama: "preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States"
Roberts: "So help you God"
Obama: "So help me God"
Roberts: "Congratulations, Mr. President"

What a mess. Here is the actual oath required by Article II, Sec. 1 of the U.S. Constitution:

"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."

Mistake 1: Obama thought Roberts was going to pause for a response after "I Barack Hussein Obama" and started to repeat that, but Roberts kept going and added "do solemnly swear" while Obama was talking. Obama immediately stopped. When Roberts stopped, he then said "I Barack Hussein Obama" from the beginning.

Mistake 2: Roberts then said: "that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully." That's wrong. It has two gross errors in it. First, it is "President of the United States" not "President to the United States" (wrong preposition). Even worse, he put the adverb "faithfully" in the wrong place, at the end of the clause. Not only is in wrong there, but is also grammatically incorrect there. Obama knew his oath a lot better than Roberts and was flustered at that moment. He was probably thinking: "What a moron. He's Chief Justice of the United States and he can't memorize one sentence correctly? How did he ever pass the bar exam? But what do I do now? Do I recite the correct oath and make a fool of him in public? Or do I just repeat what he bungled? Geez, I have to make a decision in under 200 milliseconds. Tell you what, I'll just start and maybe he'll correct himself." So Obama said: "that I will execute..." and then stopped.

Mistake 3: At this point Roberts realized he messed up and tried to recover but he didn't know what to say, so he stuttered all over the place, emitting words from the sentence in a more or less random order, ending with "President of the United States" at least. Obama then recovered and said: "the office of President of the United States faithfully" which got the preposition right ("of," not "to") but put "faithfully" in the wrong place, just as Roberts did. So he chose not to embarrass the Chief Justice--by parroting him rather than reciting the correct oath.

Mistake 4: They both got the "preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States" part OK, but then Roberts said: "So help you God." First, this is not in the constitution, but at this point the oath is actually finished so Obama could add it if he liked to as many Presidents have done, but Roberts said "So help ***you*** God" not "So help me God" as he should have. Obama is supposed to repeat his words, not translate them to first person singular on the fly. If Roberts actually believed his translation theory, he should have started by saying: "You Barack Hussein Obama" not "I Barack Hussein Obama." Roberts should have used "I" both times or maybe (arguably) "you" both times, but not one of each. So the Chief Justice of the United States is not capable of uttering a fairly straightforward sentence without four mistakes? One hopes he is better at his day job.

A video of the oath can be found here.

A few minutes earlier, Joe Biden took the Vice Presidential oath (which is not in the constitution) but that went off without a hitch, probably because Associate Justice John Paul Stevens got it right. Here is the video.

The rest of the day was full of parades and 10 inaugural balls. The hard part--two wars, an economy in tatters, and a nation still bitterly divided--starts today.

Supreme Court Vacancies Likely

Speaking of Justice John Paul Stevens, he will be 89 in April and 90 next year. That is an age when many Americans begin to think about retirement. Although Stevens was appointed by Jerry Ford and enjoys his work, there is a fairly good chance that he was waiting for a Democratic President before calling it a day. Call this vacancy #1. Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 76 in March. She was appointed to the court by Bill Clinton. She had a bout with colon cancer a few years ago and might also be thinking about retirement. Call this vacancy #2. Finally, although David Souter (appointed by George H.W. Bush) is a spring chicken, turning 70 in September, he is known to dislike living in D.C. and wants to go back to New Hampshire, where he grew up. Call this vacancy #3. None of the other justices are likely to retire soon.

If Obama gets to replace all three of these, that would not change the ideological balance of the court, since all three are liberals and would likely be replaced by younger liberals. Still, a court with three young liberals plus Stephen Breyer (71 in August) would have a solid core of liberals, as well as a solid core of four conservatives consisting of Clarence Thomas (61 in June), John Roberts (54 next week), Samuel Alito (59 in April), and Antonin Scalia (73 in March). This means that all ideological decisions will continue to be made by swinger Anthony Kennedy (73 in July).

Senate Approves Obama Appointees

Just hours after his swearing in, the Senate approved some of Obama's top-level appointees. They are Steven Chu (Secretary of Energy), Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education), Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security), Peter Orszag (Head of OMB), and Tom Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture). More are expected today.

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