Sunday, January 15, 2017

Raise Your Right Hand

On January 20, Donald J. Trump will take the oath of the office to become the 45th President of the United States. In all likelihood, when he takes the oath, he will place his left hand on a Bible and raise his right hand in the air. This is the tradition for presidential oath-taking in recent years, but just how far back does this tradition go?

George Washington Leads the Way

George Washington, our nation’s first president, established innumerable precedents for how a President should act. These precedents, however, did not include raising his right hand when he took the first oath of office in New York in March 1989.

Washington's Inauguration

While there are no photographs of the event, this artist’s rendering shows Washington placing his right hand on a Bible, while his left hovers over his heart.

Another artist depicted more or less the same stance: right hand on the Bible, left hand by his side and resting on the hilt of his sword.

Washington 1789 Swearing In

So when did Presidents start raising their right hands? It’s not entirely clear.

Drawings of early presidential inaugurations can be hard to find, and of course, you can never be sure whether the drawing depicts what really happened or is just a product of the artist’s imagination.

In 1817, James Monroe became the fifth President of the United States. At his swearing-in, Monroe followed Washington’s lead and placed his right hand on a Bible and kept his left hand by his side.

1817  monroe inauguration P

Andrew Jackson Puts His Hand Up

In 1829, Andrew Jackson ascended to the presidency riding a wave of white populism. In this portrait, Andrew proudly holds his right hand high. This is the earliest depiction of a President that I could find of where the President’s right hand is up and left hand is on the Bible.

1829  Andrew Jackson

You might think, then, that Andrew Jackson kicked off the tradition of raising your right hand and the practice stuck from then forward, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Abraham Lincoln Puts His Hand Down

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president, seems to have reverted to Washington’s model of right hand on Bible and left hand down for at least his second inauguration.

1865  LincolnUlysses S. Grant, the eighteenth president, seems to have followed Lincoln’s lead. While I couldn’t find a drawing of Grant’s first inauguration, at his second, he puts his right hand on the Bible and keeps his left hand by his side.

1873  Ulysses S Grant

Ups and Downs

In 1877, after a bitterly contested election, Rutherford B. Hayes ascends to the presidency. Hayes, it seems, decided not to touch a holy book and instead raised his right hand and kept his left hand by his side.

1877  Rutherford B Hayes

James Garfield and Chester Arthur both followed Hayes’s lead when they were sworn in as president in 1881, Garfield first, and then Arthur after Garfield was assassinated.

1881  Garfield

1881  Chester Arthur

So it would seem that, by this point, the matter is settled. Right hands go up during swearing-ins. But not necessarily.

In 1889, Benjamin Harrison in a rain-soaked ceremony put his right hand on the Bible and kept his left hand down.

1889  harrison2

Finally a Photograph

William Mckinley became president in 1897. He seems to have thrown all tradition to the wind and put his left hand on the Bible and kept his right hand by his side.

1897 McKinley  first

And finally in 1901, we have a photograph. McKinley is inaugurated a second time, and this time we have a photo that clearly shows that, indeed, McKinley did not raise his right hand. In the photo, however, McKinley has his right hand on the Bible, while in his left hand he holds some papers.

1901  Mckinley 2d

A few months after his inauguration, McKinley is assassinated, and his Vice President Theodore Roosevelt becomes President, at the relatively tender age of 41. In a sketch of the hurried swearing in, Roosevelt holds his right hand high and uses his left to clutch the lapel of his jacket.

1901  Theodore Roosevelt  first

Roosevelt’s second inauguration was a more formal affair, and here again we have a photograph. While the angle is not ideal, it seems clear that Roosevelt indeed is raising his right hand while his left hand hangs by his side. 

1905  TR

When Is This Tradition Going to Start?

Roosevelt was followed by William Howard Taft, but I could not find a photo of Taft’s inauguration. In 1913, however, Woodrow Wilson becomes President, and Wilson goes his own way, placing his right hand on a Bible and holding the Bible with his left hand. 

1913  wilson inaugural 1


The next President is Warren G. Harding, who takes the oath of office in 1921. Unlike his immediate predecessor, Harding clearly raises his right hand and keeps his left hand by his side.

1921  harding2

Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s successor, also goes with the right hand up and the left hand down.

1925 coolidge inauguration

Just when you think the tradition is firmly established, Herbert Hoover comes along and goes back to putting his right hand on the Bible and keeping his left hand down.

1929  Hoover inauguration

And then in 1933 we get to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man who will take the oath of office of the President of the United States more times than any other person in the country’s history. As he takes the oath for the first time, he stands with his right hand held high.

1933  Roosevelt2

So that’s it then, right? Right hands up  it is. That is, until the next person, which is Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s Vice President, hastily inaugurated in the waning days of World War II after Roosevelt’s sudden death. What does Truman do in his private swearing-in ceremony? It looks like right hand on top of the Bible and left hand underneath it.

1945  Truman

But in another photo, it seems Truman is holding the Bible and raising his right hand. So maybe Truman started with both hands on the Bible and then raised his right hand. It’s not entirely clear.

1945  Truman hand up

Truman’s second inauguration in 1949 is more clear. This time, Truman clearly takes the oath with his right hand raised.

1949  Truman s Second Inauguration

Can We Call It a Tradition Yet?

In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the General who was the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, becomes President with his right hand raised.

1953  Eisenhower

And he does the same thing for the beginning of his second term in 1957.

1957  Eisenhower

At this point, it’s right hands up all the way through. For completeness, pictures of the other presidential swearing-in ceremonies follow.

1961 — John F. Kennedy

1961  Kennedy

1963 — Lyndon B. Johnson

1963 Lyndon Johnson

1965 — Johnson again

1965  LBJ


1969 — Richard M. Nixon

1969  Nixon

1973 — Nixon Again

1973  Nixon

1974 — Gerald F. Ford

1974  Ford Inauguration


1977 — Jimmy Carter

1977  carter

1981 — Ronald Reagan

1981  Reagen

1985 — Reagan again

1985  Reagen


1989 — George H.W. Bush

1989  George HW Bush


1993 — William Jefferson Clinton

1993  clinton first inaugural


1997 — Clinton again

1997  clinton

2001 — George W. Bush

2001  George W Bush


2005 — Bush again

2005  George W Bush second inauguration

2009 — Barack Obama

2009  obama

2013 — Obama again

2013  Obama

In summary...

So that’s it. It seems that the tradition of raising the right hand to take the oath of office became firmly established in the twentieth century. What this stroll through history shows, however, is that even though it may seem that right hands raised may be the only way to take an oath, it has not always been so in our nation’s history. Time’s change, and even seemingly firmly rooted traditions are susceptible to the shifting sands of time.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

DOJ Releases Guidance on Eyewitnesses and Photo Arrays

Good news in the fight against unreliable eyewitness identifications. This week the U.S. Department of Justice released guidance on steps law enforcement agents should take to reduce the chance of influencing a witness when a witness tries to make an identification from a photo array.

A photo array is a group of photos shown one at a time or all at once to a witness who is asked by police whether he or she sees the perpetrator in the array. The array may or may not include the suspect.

Possibly, the most significant reform is that federal agents investigating crimes should administer photo arrays using a “blind” procedure, meaning that the person who shows the witness the photos shouldn't know which photo in the array is of the suspect. The idea is to make it impossible for the person showing the photos to signal (consciously or unconsciously) to the witness which photo the police think that the witness ought to pick.

The DOJ guidance is just the latest of a growing recognition in legal circles that eyewitness identifications often cannot be trusted.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Oregon pushed this insight significantly forward when it explicitly embraced the large body of social science research that shows that the confidence of eyewitnesses  in their identifications was not a reliable measure of accuracy and that witnesses were highly susceptible to having their memories shaped by subtle and not-so-subtle cues from police and prosecutors. To minimize the risk of identifications produced by suggestive procedures, the Oregon high court required prosecutors to prove that the identifications they wanted to introduce into evidence were not obtained using suggestive procedures.

Also in 2012, the Supreme Court of Kansas put an end to the practice in that State of telling jurors that the “certainty” of a witness was a good reason for believing or disbelieving an eyewitness identification.

These, and other developments like them, will go a long way toward ensuring that judges and juries who must weigh the testimony of eyewitnesses have the best information available when they are making decisions where justice hangs in the balance.