Today, we’re looking at the Twenty-fifth Amendment as we work our way through the Constitution and its amendments.
This post is part of a series that will make more sense if it is read in order. If you haven’t read the earlier posts in this series, please click here to start with the first one. One reason I’ve broken this series into fairly small parts is that we have a tendency to rush through reading the Constitution and miss a lot of it. I hope the readers of this series will ponder the points in each session. I also hope you will comment on each post as we go along.
Throughout this series on the Constitution, my comments will be in black normal font, and the text of the document will be in this color and italicized.
SECTION 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
SECTION 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
SECTION 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
SECTION 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
This amendment was ratified in 1967 in reaction to the vacancy in the office of Vice-President created when Lyndon Johnson became President upon the death of John Kennedy. Prior to this amendment, there was no provision made for filling the office of Vice-President when a vacancy occurred there.
If a vacancy had occurred in the Presidency prior to this amendment, it would have been filled by the Speaker of the House. Behind him, it would have been the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and then a specified order of cabinet secretaries.
The primary purpose of this amendment was to establish procedure for filling a vacancy in the Vice-Presidency. It came into play almost immediately as Nixon made Spiro T. Agnew a fall guy to try to take heat off the Watergate investigations. Upon his resignation as Vice-President, Nixon nominated Gerald Ford as his replacement. Ford subsequently became the only man ever to serve as President without being elected as either President or Vice-President.
If memory serves, Carl Albert, a Democrat from Oklahoma, was Speaker of the House at the time. If not for this amendment, we would have had a Democrat serving out the term of a Republican elected to be President, a weird situation at best.
“We’ve given you a republic, if you can keep it.”
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