A Footnote on the Oath

I see that President Obama had the Chief Justice re-administer the oath of office (correctly) this time in an 'abundance of caution' following the imperfect recitation of the oath the first time (due to mis-prompting by the Chief during the Inaugural).

I don't think there are in fact four federal judges in the country who would have held that Obama was not in fact the President at all relevant times were the issue to have gone to trial. Even so, I agree that the re-administration of the oath of office was a fairly costless way for Team Obama to pacify the wingnuts and ultra-orthodox strict constructionists who might have been baying at the moon on this issue.

I post now, after it's (almost) all over only to make two points:

  • Those commentators (not naming names, sorry) who said the entire issue could never be decided on the merits due to the lack of probable plaintiffs with standing were in my humble opinion simply wrong. Any bill signed by the purported President would not in fact be law if the person signing it were not the office-holder. Ditto for any official act by anyone nominated by a non-President. There would have been armies of people with standing. Which makes me wonder whether Obama, in a further excess of caution, re-signed any first-day documents (such as the Cabinet nominations) post-re-administration of the Oath. In for a penny, in for a pound, I say.
  • Other than the fact that it would have cast an unwelcome and unnecessary cloud on a Presidency that has enough to worry about already, it actually would have been a fun case to watch. Since I believe every judge would have been results-oriented on this one, the process of getting to that result might have produced some interesting anti-formalist doctrine that might have had knock-on effects in other areas.

Update (1/22): From Political Animal,

Just for the record, Obama really was president after the first oath, and everything he did yesterday was legit. In 1789, George Washington was president for seven weeks before he'd taken the oath, but he still had all the authority of the office.

That sounds like contemporaneous construction to me.

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2 Responses to A Footnote on the Oath

  1. I think we’ve got enough anti-formalist doctrine already, thank you. Agreed about standing, and it would have been a lovely fight.

    It would have been very troubling if Obama hadn’t bothered to take the oath correctly; While it’s a fairly trivial matter, and I doubt he actually feels bound by that oath in any substantial way any more than his recent predecessors, it would have been a bad sign if he hadn’t bothered complying with the Constitution even where the cost of compliance approaches zero.

  2. ez says:

    I would add that he became president at noon whether he took the office or not. The naysayers seem to be of a mindset to get ugly on this – now it’s because the 2nd time they didn’t use a Bible. sigh…

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