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Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
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Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution was proposed by Congress on July 6, 1965 and ratified by the states on February 10, 1967. It concerns Presidential and Vice Presidential vacancies, and Presidential disabilities.

Text of the Amendment

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.

Vacancies in offices of President, Vice President

As originally ratified, the United States Constitution stated that in the event the office of President became vacant, "the Powers and Duties of the office shall devolve upon the Vice President."

This language was somewhat ambiguous in the eyes of some: was the Vice President merely acting as President, or did he actually succeed to the office? While this question was answered by precedent when John Tyler succeeded to the office upon William Henry Harrison's death in 1841, there still remained doubts in the minds of some. Section 1 of the 25th amendment clarified the position once and for all: the Vice President becomes President if the presidency is vacated. Since ratification of the amendment there has been one presidential vacancy, when Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon upon Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974.

The Constitution failed to provide for Vice Presidential vacancies until the 25th amendment was ratified - a glaring omission that had been debated for over a century, as from 1789 to 1967 the office of Vice President was vacant due to death or resignation several times, often for years at a time. Under the 25th amendment, whenever there is a vacancy in the office of Vice President of the United States, the President nominates a successor, who is confirmed by the majority vote of both houses of Congress.

Only twice have Presidents appointed Vice Presidents under the Twenty-fifth Amendment. Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford on October 13, 1973, following Spiro Agnew's resignation; Congress confirmed Ford on December 6. Then, eleven days after Ford himself became President, he nominated Nelson Rockefeller on August 20, 1974. Congress confirmed Rockefeller after a long investigation, and he was inaugurated on December 19, 1974.

Inability of the President to serve

The question of how a Presidential inability was to be ascertained was resolved by the Twenty-fifth Amendment. James Garfield was in a coma for more than eighty days before dying from an assassin's bullet; a stroke rendered Woodrow Wilson an invalid for the last eighteen months of his term. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment addressed the issue by providing that the President may, by transmitting to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration to the same effect, declare himself unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Until the President sends another written declaration to the aforementioned officers declaring himself able to resume office, the Vice President serves as Acting President.

This provision of the Twenty-fifth Amendment has been invoked twice. Firstly, on July 13, 1985, Ronald Reagan declared himself disabled for the period during which he was to undergo surgery for the removal of cancerous colon polypss. Reagan wrote in his letter, "I am mindful of the provisions of Section 3 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution and of the uncertainties of its application to such brief and temporary periods of incapacity. I do not believe that the drafters of this Amendment intended its application to situations such as the instant one. Nevertheless, consistent with my long-standing arrangement with Vice President George Bush, and not intending to set a precedent binding anyone privileged to hold this Office in the future, I have determined and it is my intention and direction that Vice President George Bush shall discharge those powers and duties in my stead commencing with the administration of anesthesia to me in this instance." Secondly, George W. Bush invoked the provision on June 29, 2002, for the period during which he underwent a colonoscopy, making Dick Cheney Acting President.

It is also possible for the Vice President, together with a majority of the heads of the executive departments (that is to say, members of Cabinet) or of such other body as Congress by law provides, to declare the President disabled. The provision has never been invoked. If the President may resume his duties by a written declaration sent to the President pro tempore and the Speaker. If the Vice President and Cabinet, however, are still unsatisfied with the President's condition, they may within four days of the President's declaration submit another declaration that the President is incapacitated. Congress must immediately decide the issue; a two-thirds vote in each House is required to permit the Vice President to assume the Acting Presidency.

References

24th Amendment Amendments
United States Constitution
26th Amendment