Sign In

Article Information

  • Lincoln Versus Taney: Liberty, Power, and the Clash of the Constitutional Titans

    On January 20, 2009, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Barack H. Obama, the forty-fourth President of the United States. Aside from nervously stumbling over the constitutionally prescribed, thirty-five-word oath, the two men probably experienced some awkwardness of a different sort. Their pairing on the steps of the Capitol marked the first time in United States history that a Chief Justice had sworn in a President who voted against his confirmation. To be sure, the two men who stood before a crowd of nearly one million spectators on that day had some things in common. Both were stellar students at Harvard Law School—Roberts (class of 1979) served as managing editor of the law review and Obama (class of 1991) as its president—and after completing law school both experienced extraordinary success. Fifty-three at the time of the inauguration, Roberts is the second-youngest Chief Justice in American history, while Obama, at forty-seven, is the fourthyoungest to be elected President. Despite these similarities, as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2005, Obama brought their ideological differences into sharp relief during Roberts’ confirmation hearings. While acknowledging Roberts’ qualifications and his love for the law, Senator Obama opposed the nomination because, in his words, Roberts “has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak.” Citing in particular Roberts’ dismissive attitude toward “efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination,” Obama was one of twenty-two Senate Democrats to vote against President George W. Bush’s first nominee to the Supreme Court.