WASHINGTON – Over the past two decades, Supreme Court justices generally have taken their constitutional oaths at the White House and their judicial oaths during more intimate ceremonies at the court.
The ceremonies — called investitures — have differed over the years. Although there is one combined oath that can be administered, justices usually take two — once pledging to uphold the Constitution, then to fairly judge the rich and the poor.
The most recent justice, Stephen Breyer (search), took his oath in 1994 on the front porch of the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's (search) summer cottage in Vermont. Later, Breyer was sworn in during a nationally televised event at the White House and at a separate ceremony in the Supreme Court. Breyer asked Justice Antonin Scalia (search) to administer the oath at the White House event.
Usually chief justices handle the oaths, although that is not always possible. Harlan Fiske Stone was on vacation when he was confirmed in 1941 as chief justice, so a Rocky Mountain National Park commissioner swore him in.
John Roberts (search) is in line to succeed Rehnquist, who died this month, so he may ask another justice, or perhaps a judge from a different court, to oversee the ceremony.
Roberts probably would wear a robe at the Supreme Court event, but not necessarily for the White House affair.
Rehnquist took his oath in 1986 from outgoing Chief Justice Warren Burger. In 1969, Burger was sworn in by outgoing Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren replaced a chief justice who had passed away, Fred Vinson. Warren asked senior associate Justice Hugo Black and the court clerk to handle the two oaths in 1953.
Presidents sometimes attend Supreme Court investiture ceremonies. President Clinton was in the courtroom for Breyer's event, and President Reagan was present for the courtroom oath of the first female justice, Sandra Day O'Connor.
Investiture ceremonies also can be prime photographic opportunities. Justices and their families sometimes pose for pictures outside on the steps of the courthouse.