Who can swear in a US President?

See query.

(Background: This is an offshoot from an excellent thread which, inter alia, discusses the necessity for swearing in the VP or other next in line–administering and taking the Oath of Office–without which any newcomer is NOT President, no matter what the health or even death of the current President.

That thread, for back-up to this one and for the righteously annoyed bibliographer:Why The Long Gap Between Ascension And Coronation of the British Monarch.)

It’s never been tested, but I think there’s broad agreement that anyone with a general power to administer oaths can do so. Coolidge was sworn in by his father, who was a Vermont Justice of the Peace and notary public.

Anyone who can administer an oath. Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by his father, who was a Justice of the Peace (although he was later re-sworn in by a federal district court judge.) Lyndon Johnson was also sworn in by a federal district judge, as was Theodore Roosevelt. Chester Arthur was sworn in by a New York state judge, but later re-took the oath from the Chief Justice. Truman and Andrew Johnson were sworn in by their Chief Justices, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore were sworn in by D.C. circuit judges.

OK, so what confers the power to administer oaths?

The Constitution is silent on who can administer an oath, just that the President has to take one. I don’t see any reason why the person administering it has to have any particular authority at all.

There probably would have to be witnesses to attest that the oath was taken, but as far as the Constitution is concerned, it could be anyone.

As far as I can tell, the office confers the power. In this document from California, it looks like just about anybody who holds either an executive or judicial office can administer an oath. In Kentucky, the law throws in members of the General Assembly, just for good measure.

Oddly enough, federal law seems to allow damn near everybody EXCEPT the Presidentto administer an oath.

Why does anyone have to even administer it? It seems to be more a matter of tradition than anything. The Constitution sez:

8: Before he 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.”

He could just stand there and say it.

George Washington was sworn in by the Chancellor of New York for his first inauguration; the federal judiciary hadn’t been set up yet, and the Chancellor was the highest-ranking judge available (NYC being the capital at the time).

Or sign a napkin with the oath on it or something like that.

Or he could just /pretend/ that he said it.

People who administer oaths are normally people that have a sworn duty to correctly witness oaths, and some kind of certification that they understand the significance of witnessing oaths.

Since you you don’t become president until you’ve sworn the oath, and people have no reason to take direction from you until you become president, you have an interest in having your oath witnessed by a credible and powerful person.

“Sir, your actions, at this point, don’t really … Defend the Constitution of the United States”


“Well, we kinda only let you be President cebause you said that you would.”

“When’d I say that”

“During the Oath”

“Prove it”

“We have you on video, in front of a Judge.”

Oaths happen all the time. We take oaths in court. We take oaths to become married. If you want to be stubborn, you can claim at any time, the oath isn’t binding because there was fringe on the flag, or some such foo. But having a Judge there makes things a little bit more legally defensible that the oath is binding. When things are important, we like to put extra levels of formality, to let the person know – this promise is for reals real, like two levels above pinky swear.

I don’t think an oath of office, taken using the correct script, by someone duly elected, in public with witnesses present, could ever be declared invalid.

It would be in everyone’s interest to have numerous witnesses, video, etc.

There have been cranks who have tried to claim that some minor irregularity or other in a President’s oath has disqualified that President, but nobody’s ever taken them seriously.

It’s not clear to me that there’s even necessarily a mechanism for the president’s oath to be declared invalid. The Constitution does not explicitly say that an action taken by an unsworn president is invalid, so it might not be found to be a legal question at all.

But the constitution does say the oath has to be taken, right? It’s never come up and probably never will, but it would appear to me that if it’s in the constitution then there’s no such thing as an unsworn president - someone who hasn’t taken the oath isn’t a president of any kind, sworn or unsworn.

Or it could be struck from the constitution as superfluous. But that would be a lot of work.

Missed edit window:

I do personally think it’s a good thing to require each person newly elected (or re-elected) to ANY office, to stand up in front of a public meeting and promise to do the job correctly and ethically, to the best of their ability. I wouldn’t leave it out.

Didn’t Obama get re-sworn in in private for exactly that reason, and not because (arguably :)) they’re cranks?

More like he did it to *prevent *the cranks from making it a major issue, knowing they were out there and surely would.

There are all sorts of federal laws concerning oaths, and who may administer them, but none specifically address the President, and some of them specifically exempt the President.

Here is the present oath for civil service employees, which specifically does not apply to the President, and the law on who may administer it.

Here is federal law on judges’ oaths, which doesn’t say who may administer, but adds later on, “Each justice or judge of the United States may administer oaths and affirmations and take acknowledgments.”

Here is federal law concerning the swearing in of Senators and Representatives.

As noted, none of these apply to the Presidency. To my knowledge, Congress has never specified qualifications to administer the Presidential oath. I suspect, but don’t know, that they’ve felt that since the wording of the oath is specified in the Constitution, it would be inappropriate to add or subtract from it via ordinary statutory law.

How about being nationally televised and witnessed by tens (or hundreds) of thousands of American citizens?