Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Article II, Section I

Greetings raindancers! And welcome to a new era of the American Presidency.

I will have Inauguration celebration photos up soon, as well as a recount of the day's events. All I can say is those of us who were there on the National Mall will never, ever forget how we felt. But today's forecast raises a concern of mine stemming from one of yesterday's most important events: the swearing in.


Words cannot express my deep disappointment in and resentment of the Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John G. Roberts Jr. for his inexcusable flubbing of the presidential oath yesterday afternoon. For myself and people like me, the moment President-elect Barack Obama became President Barack Obama was the very moment we were most anticipating, the pinnacle of the past two years, the peaceful and historic transfer of power from one American citizen to another. Election Day was the launch from the tower; the oath was the moment we exited the atmosphere.

But there was a slight malfunction with one of our onboard instruments. Or perhaps I should say the mission was compromised by human error. Chief Justice Roberts, no doubt a highly intelligent, well-qualified, respectable man, was charged with fulfilling one of his duties and presiding over the swearing-in of the new president. First, the Chief Justice asked the president-elect if he was "prepared" to take the oath of office, but referred to him as "Senator," a title Mr. Obama hasn't held for a few months now. Then he began to administer the oath:

C.J.: "I, Barack Hussein Obama-"
PEOTUS: "I, Barack-"
C.J.: "-do solemnly swear,"

(Right here, the President-elect jumped the gun, not knowing that the Chief Justice wanted him to bite off a little more of the oath to spit out. A forgivable mistake in my opinion, merely a timing error. But it was nothing compared to the Constitutional mishap that occurred next)

PEOTUS: "I, Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear,"
C.J.: "that I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully,"

(Now hold up. What? Mr. Roberts as I must remind you is the head of the judicial branch of government and, like the man he was swearing in, a Harvard Law graduate. But in spite of this he butchered one of the more memorable lines of the Constitution! "Execute the office of President TO the United States faithfully?")

PEOTUS: "that I will execute..."
C.J.: "faithfully the office of President of the United States-"
PEOTUS: "the office of President of the United States faithfully,"

(Right here the President-elect realizes the Chief Justice's error and smiles, granting Mr. Roberts a chance to correct himself, which he does not. He again misplaces "faithfully," placing it before the word "the" as opposed to before the word "execute." Aye, what a nightmare! Mr. Obama, having in the course of a second become acutely aware of how awkward and embarrassing this error had become in front of 2.5 million people and millions more watching at home, chooses then to just repeat what Mr. Roberts had initially recited in the hopes that the two men could quickly move on from a badly fudged introduction. From here on out, it was easy flying.)

C.J.: "and will to the best of my ability,"
PEOTUS: "and will to the best of my ability,"
C.J.: "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
PEOTUS: "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
C.J.: "So help you God?"
PEOTUS: "So help me God."
C.J.: "Congratulations, Mr. President."
POTUS: "Thank you."

This mistake could have deflated what rightly was one of the best moments of my life. For a few hours afterwards, after joining the millions of Americans at my side in welcoming in our new president, and after hearing him deliver one of the best speeches of his and my life, the flubbed oath STILL nagged at me. It drove me nuts. I'm more at peace with it now than before, as I have watched and rewatched the oath ceremony and focused on the smoother parts. But I'm still pretty upset. What made me even more angry was my fear that Mr. Obama's critics would use this "oops oath" as ammunition to prove that he was experiencing debilitating, unpresidential stagefright at his first truly presidential moment (bullshit), or that he harbored some menacing anti-American mental reserve that proves his malice and true evil intentions (I can see Michelle Bachman pissing herself in spasm).

Or that, as Fox News' own Chris Wallace insinuated on Tuesday, he was in fact not officially the President of the United States because he did not recite the oath exactly as it is appears in the Constitution, therefore invalidating his authority and his presidency.

The Constitution states: "Before [the President] enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: '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.'"

However Section I of the 20th Amendment, ratified on January 23, 1933, states that "the terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January."

So according to the 20th Amendment, which makes no mention of the oath, President-elect Obama was in fact President Obama at the time at which he began to recite the oath, since the oath was officially administered at 12:05 PM, five minutes after Mr. Obama's first term began.

So due to the language of the 20th Amendment, the oath is irrelevant, right? Well, not quite. Constitutional scholars argue that the 20th Amendment simply states that the four year terms of the President begins at noon on 01/20, but that the President does not enter upon the exercise of the Office at that moment. In other words, a President's term and his entering upon the execution of his duties are not coincidental. In order to enter the Office, the President-elect must recite the oath.

There's been a lot of talk about this since yesterday afteroon. According to my colleague Adam Beck, the right-wing, ever-predictable (we)blogosphere was aflame with conspiracy nutjobs claiming an illegitimate President now presided over the country. However major news networks also picked up on the potential Constitutional implications of the flub, bringing on guest legal scholars to discuss it. Many of these scholars, in addition to White House counsel's office, recommended that President Obama retake the presidential oath.

And so he did just that.

I am relieved to report that today at 7:35 PM in the White House Map Room, Chief Justice Roberts readministered (carefully) the Oath of Office, just in case.

"We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday," White House counsel Greg Craig said in a written statement. "But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time," the statement read.

The second oath was administered without a Bible, which is not Constitutionally required (President John Q. Adams chose to use a book of U.S. Laws instead of a Bible). Before the Chief Justice began the oath, Mr. Obama insisted on doing it "very slowly."

So that's the end of it. The only legal issues I forsee potentially happening now would challenge the legitimacy of President Obama's first E.O.s issued last night and earlier today, which pertained to Guantanamo Bay, compensation for White House staff, and the role of lobbyists in the White House.

But President Obama has now, without question, entered into the exercise of his executive duties.

"The bad news for the [press] pool is there's 12 more balls," the President quipped.

No comments:

Post a Comment