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The Supreme Court

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Supreme Court Justices
The John Jay Story
History of the Oaths of Office
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The Supreme Court Oath of Office

Supreme Court Building, National Historic Landmark
Supreme Court Building, Washington D.C.

Unlike the Presidential Oath of Office, the wording of the Supreme Court Oath is not explicitly defined in the text of the United States Constitution. However, according to Article VI of the Constitution:

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

In 1789, Congress sought to remedy this omission by drafting an official oath. This first version was used until 1861. The text was short, a single sentence. It read:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States."

The text now reads:

"I, ________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

This office, much more specific and lengthy than the original, is now used by every federal office investiture except for the office of the President.

The Second Oath

Appointees to the Supreme Court Bench must not only take the oath listed above, but a second oath. This statement is called The Judicial Oath. The Judiciary Act of 1789 established the federal judiciary. The Act set the number of Supreme Court Justices at six (five Associate Justices and one Chief Justice). It also mandated that for the Supreme Court Justices to begin serving, they must swear a second Oath of Office. The original text of this was:

"I, _________, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________, according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God."

This oath was used until 1990 when the Judicial Improvements Act replaced the phrase beginning with "according to the best of my abilities..." to "under the Constitution." This language proved reasonably more effective in tying the decisions of the judiciary to the authority of the United States Constitution.

Frequently, Supreme Court Justices have elected to take a Combined Oath which brings the two affirmations together in one statement.

Image of of the Supreme Court Building courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Share- Alike License 3.o.

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