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Though Obama Oath Flub Was Insignificant, a Do-Over Couldn't Hurt, Experts Say

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President Barack Obama delivers his inaugural address Tuesday following his swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Video by washingtonpost.com

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By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The presidential oath of office is required of a new president before he can execute his powers, and the Constitution is clear that its 35 words must be spoken exactly.

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Which is what makes the oath President Obama took yesterday so interesting. It might be that the more than 1 million spectators didn't actually witness Obama being sworn in.

Because of a noticeable gaffe by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Obama transposed the words. He should have said he will "faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States" but instead said he will "execute the Office of President of the United States faithfully."

Constitutional law experts agree that the flub is insignificant. Yet two previous presidents -- Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur -- repeated the oath privately because of similar issues.

Lawyers said Obama and his supporters need not be worried about the legitimacy of his presidency, but they also said a do-over couldn't hurt. Charles Cooper, head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel under President Ronald Reagan, said that the oath is mandatory, that an incorrect recitation should be fixed and that he would be surprised if the oath had not already been re-administered.

Akhil Reed Amar, a Yale University professor of constitutional law, said, "Out of a super-abundance of caution, perhaps he should do it again."

Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, was hosting an inauguration party at his McLean home yesterday and did a mock swearing-in of 35 children. When Roberts erred, one child shouted: "That's not right!"

"He should probably go ahead and take the oath again," Turley said. "If he doesn't, there are going to be people who for the next four years are going to argue that he didn't meet the constitutional standard. I don't think it's necessary, and it's not a constitutional crisis. This is the chief justice's version of a wardrobe malfunction."


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