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The ins and outs of presidential oaths

There's been a flurry of interest in what's usually a small detail of a new presidency: the oath taking, which President Obama repeated Wednesday after Chief Justice Roberts stumbled over the words at Tuesday's inaugural ceremony. Here's a guide to the oath.
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There's been a flurry of interest in what's usually a small detail of a new presidency: the oath taking, which President Barack Obama repeated Wednesday after Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled over the words at Tuesday's inaugural ceremony.

Here's a guide to the details:

Did President Obama become president at noon on Tuesday, or not? Or did the mangled recital of the oath prevent him from legally being president for a day?White House counsel Greg Craig said, "We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the President was sworn in appropriately” on Tuesday. 

But, he said, “out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time” on Wednesday.

It’s doubtful that anyone would meet with success in federal court if they tried to file a challenge to any order Obama issued, prior to his second oath taking.

What does the Constitution say about a new president taking the oath?
It says simply that he “shall” take the oath “before he enter on the Execution of his Office….”

He must swear that he will “faithfully execute the Office of President” and “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Does the oath add anything to the powers of the president — beyond those powers specifically set forth in the Constitution?According to the Congressional Research Service, or CRS, the idea that the oath adds any additional powers might seem “fanciful.”

But it then cites a few instances where presidents contended the oath gave them a special responsibility to defend the Constitution.

CRS notes that when President Andrew Jackson vetoed the act renewing the Bank of the United States, he suggested “that the president has the right to refuse to enforce both statutes and judicial decisions based on his own independent decision that they were unwarranted by the Constitution.”

President Abraham Lincoln also justified his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus without congressional authorization by referring to the president’s own special responsibility, specified in the presidential oath of office, to defend the Constitution.

But CRS adds, “Beyond these isolated instances, it does not appear to be seriously contended that the oath adds anything to the President’s powers.”

Some observers have noted that Obama did not have his hand on a Bible for the second oath taking at the White House. Does a president need to take the oath on a Bible?
Not according to the Constitution, which says simply that he “shall” take the oath. It says nothing about a Bible.

Have other presidents performed a “do over” on their oath taking?
Yes. In 1881, after the death of President James Garfield, Chester Arthur took the oath twice. The first time was from New York Supreme Court Justice John Brady at Arthur’s house on Lexington Avenue in New York City. The second was two days later at the Capitol from Chief Justice Morrison Waite.

Calvin Coolidge, who became president when President Warren Harding suddenly died in 1923, took the oath from his father, John Coolidge, a notary public and justice of the peace.

He happened to be visiting his father’s house in Plymouth, Vt., when word arrived of Harding’s death.

Coolidge took the oath again three weeks later at the Willard Hotel in Washington from Justice Adolph Hoehling of the District of Columbia Supreme Court.

So a president does not need to be sworn in by the chief justice of the United States?No, he does not.

Forty-one presidents have been sworn in by the chief justice, but eight others have been sworn in by someone other than the chief justice.

George Washington was sworn in the first time by Robert Livingston, chancellor of the state of New York, and for his second term by Supreme Court Associate Justice William Cushing.

The most recent president not to have the oath of office administered by the chief justice was Lyndon Johnson, who after President John Kennedy’s assassination on Nov 22, 1963, took his oath from a federal judge, Sarah Hughes.