AT NOON on January 20th, Donald Trump will take the presidential oath of office, administered by John Roberts, the chief justice. With his right hand raised and his left hand atop two bibles, Mr Trump will say “I do solemnly swear”, (though he also has the option to “affirm”, using a book of his choice), “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.”
There are signs that Mr Trump’s constitutional commitment may not match those of his predecessors in the White House. During the campaign and the post-election transition, Mr Trump made several statements that seem difficult to square with America’s founding document. In an apparent rejection of settled First-Amendment law—and of a ruling by the late Antonin Scalia, a justice he hails—Mr Trump said that people who burn the American flag should be jailed or lose their citizenship. He also called for looser libel laws to permit newspapers to be sued more easily and advocated the use of torture, long held to violate the Eighth Amendment. Some scholars say that the oath gives presidents a tool to protect the prerogatives of their office from the encroachment of Congress. But others argue the presidential oath was designed to serve as a check on chief executives’ power. David Strauss, a law professor at the University of Chicago, observes that oaths are inherently “limiting, not empowering”.