Will Chief Justice Rehnquist Administer Second Bush Inaugural Oath?

If You’re Available Jan. 20 (WaPo)

A question starting to circulate quietly in Washington is whether Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, battling thyroid cancer and missing oral arguments at the high court, will be able to swear in President Bush on Jan. 20.

It’s hoped he can. If not, it would be only the ninth time someone other than the chief justice of the United States has sworn in a president — and most of those occasions arose because the president had died in office. The last time was Nov. 22, 1963, when U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes of Texas administered the oath to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson on Air Force One in Dallas.

The Constitution specifies what the presidential oath is, but it doesn’t say who has to administer it. The president can pick whomever he wants, though tradition since President John Adams is to have the chief justice perform it. ( George Washington, first time around, of course, didn’t have a chief justice, and the second time picked an associate justice when Chief Justice John Jay was overseas on official business.) There have been some unusual exceptions, however. For example, when Calvin Coolidge took over upon the death of Warren Harding in 1923, Coolidge’s dad, a notary public, administered the oath. It was done at his father’s house in Vermont.

One certainly hopes Rehnquist’s health holds up well enough to administer the oath–and hopefully for many years afterwards. Clearly, though, it’s time for him to retire after a long and distinguished career.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark says:

    John Kerry should administer the oath. Unity!

  2. Tig says:

    I like to see Calvin Coolidge’s dad do it.

  3. McGehee says:

    Maybe if I start right now I can be a qualified notary public in time to apply for the honor. Although Dubya would, I believe, have to come down here to Georgia for the swearing-in to be valid.