The 50th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 25th Amendment

On February 10, 1967, the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. The Amendment was passed by Congress on July 6, 1965, in order to clarify what happens upon the death, removal, or resignation of a President or Vice-President, and how the Presidency is temporarily filled if the President becomes disabled or otherwise cannot fulfill his responsibilities.

Article II of the U.S. Constitution provided –

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

Section 3 of the 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, clarified one detail of presidential succession procedure by declaring that, if a President-elect dies before being inaugurated, the Vice President-elect becomes President-elect and is subsequently inaugurated.

Prior to the ratification of the 25th Amendment, it was standard practice that the Vice President became President upon the death of the President, as had happened eight times in our nation’s history. Presumably, the Vice President would also become President upon the removal of the President from office. There was also the issue of how to deal with the death or resignation of a Vice President. Throughout U.S. history 7 vice presidents had died in office and one resigned, and there had been no person to step up to fill the vacancy.

The most pressing question, on which scholars and experts at the time were divided, was whether the Vice President would become acting President when the President became temporarily unable to serve, and whether the Vice President could resume his office upon recovering his ability. Questions abound about who was to determine the existence of an inability, how was the matter to be handled in the President wished to continue in his/her role, what was to happen if the President recovered.

In the aftermath of the assassination of the of President John F. Kennedy and with the Vice Presidency vacant and a President (LBJ) who had previously had a heart attack, Congress decided to pass the 25th Amendment, which provides –

Amendment XXV

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.

 

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