Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The fact that Chief Justice Roberts screwed up the swearing-in does not surprise me in the least. He never came off as smart during the hearings when he was appointed. He mostly smiles a lot and repeats conservative dogma. At the Supreme Court, with his staff, he can write stuff that sound intelligent. But as a person, he's a mediocrity.
As others have noted, it's hilarious that a "Constitutional originalist" such as Roberts takes such liberties -- even inadvertently -- with the text of the Constitution. Read it from paper, asshole!
Imagine a Shakespeare scholar saying in a one-time appearance before an audience of billions "Poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio, alas."
Another point that lends credence to your "not very talented" impression (which I concur with) is that the nature of his slip indicates that he's not much of a writer. And great legal scholars must be very good writers.
The Constitutional oath as written: "...I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States..."
"Faithfully" modifies "execute." All good ratiocinative writers would try to move that adverb close to the verb. Sloppy writers (such as me) will often move the adverb around in the sentence.
Much as Roberts did in his rendering:"... I will execute the office of President to the United States faithfully..."
Roberts transported the adverb as far away from the verb as one can without tripping into another clause. A good writer would reflexively flinch from such a construction.
Hence, I think Roberts isn't a very good writer, and probably not a good legal thinker.
A good precis of what I think happened is this post at Crooked Timber. From the comments there I found this excellent comment from elsewhere:
I think Justice Roberts fucking up the oath is a perfect symbol of the transfer of power. Roberts deciding to “wing-it W-style” didn’t use notes and ended up fucking up a very historic event. Obama, in contrast, was left trying to fix the half cocked mess. What a wonderful symbol for what Bush is handing off and the different approaches of the two administrations.
Hard to argue with.
It looked as if President Obama, with his legal training, was tempted to call for a "sidebar." But that would have been too embarrassing for America's top judge. Perhaps Justice Roberts' flub was attributable to his awareness that George W. Bush, as President, had failed "faithfully" to execute the office of President for the past eight (8) years. I can hardly wait for Justice Scalia to remind us of this flub during oral arguments when attorneys appearing before the Supreme Court flub. "A slip of the tongue is not necessarily a slip of the mind - unless one had only a slip of a mind to begin with." Tony, you may use this line without attribution.
I thought the inauguration was supposed to bring us all together. Instead, lefties are just as engrossed in petty sniping as ever before and the conservative response came in the form of a stock market crash.
When does the coming together start?
Chief Justice Roberts did a "do-over" that should please originalists but not talk radio hosts. (Whose portrait was that over the fireplace?)
Oh for pete's sake. It was Obama who interrupted Roberts in the first line, and after that they were both struggling to get back into sync with each other. You notice they were both laughing about it, which to me suggests two people comfortable with their own fallibility.
What a weak, weak try at whipping up an "issue", and how crude of you to use it as a basis to smear his judicial talents.
I can just imagine Justice "Tony" Scalia emulating James Cagney in chastizing his "Mr. Roberts" although the latter is the former's superior (in title only). I still wonder whose portrait is above the fireplace looking down on this second swearing-in. Maybe SNL will come up with a skit: "Here come the Judge - again!" Perhaps the constitutional language should be amended, to add "... or whatever."
Consider that if the second swearing in did not take place, some right-wing yahoos would have challenged the legitimacy of Obama as President. And if such a challenge went to the Supreme Court, what might be the decision? Most likely it wouldn't be 5-4 (whichever way) since Chief Justice Roberts would recuse himself - or would he? (Keep in mind that Sen. Obama voted against Roberts' appointment.)
By the way, if Obama and Roberts could laugh about it, why can't we? Or did humor evaporate with the departure of George W? (Of course, it's no joke the mess that George W left.)
Obama did not interrupt Roberts. Like most people who have heard presidents take the oath of office, Obama assumed that Roberts would pause after the words "solemnly swear," because that's the way it's always been done. That's what I would have done.
But the Chief Justice of the United States not only didn't pause, but administered it incorrectly. I'm not a lawyer or a judge, and I've never studied law, but even I know the presidential oath of office word-for-word, and have known it my entire adult life.
If I know it by heart, I don't think it's too much to expect the highest judicial officer in the land to be able to read it from a piece of paper without screwing it up.