United States Constitution
The United States Constitution is the oldest constitution in the world still in active use, written in 1787 and ratified in 1788.
Widely considered one of the best constitutions ever written, the US Constitution is comprised of 7 different sections known as articles and contains 27 amendments.
The 25th Amendment, ratified on February 10, 1967, contains four sections and details the process and order of presidential succession dealing with vacancies in the presidential and vice-presidential roles.
25th Amendment – Overview
The original United States Constitution was very ambiguous about what to do when a president or vice president is removed from office either temporarily or permanently.
It was only specified that if the president was no longer able to perform their duties, the vice president would take over the president’s duties, and Congress could also remove both the president and vice president from office.
Congress could then appoint an officer to function as president until a new election period, or the president was able to resume their role.
Loopholes existed within the constitution’s wording, such as how to replace a vice president if the president was still in office or the process of assigning temporary authority to the vice president if the president became temporarily disabled.
A more specific process for presidential succession was needed to avoid chaos and confusion in case of future vacancies in these offices.
Section 1 states that if the president is removed from office due to death or resignation, the vice president becomes president.
While the original wording of the United States Constitution does say that the vice president retains the role of president if the president is removed from office, the wording is a little unclear and ambiguous.
There was a further stipulation that Congress could remove the president and vice president from office and appoint another officer to function as president.
This seemed to grant Congress the power to prevent the vice president from taking over the president’s roles if the president was removed from office.
Section 2 states that if there is a vacancy in the role of vice president, the president will nominate another vice president that a majority vote must approve of both the House and the Senate.
Section 3 details the process of a president voluntarily suspending their duties as president.
It states that the president must make a written declaration to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Once a president does this, the vice president takes on the role of acting president.
Section 4 details the process of a president involuntarily having their duties suspended if they are unable to submit a written declaration.
In a situation such as this, the vice president and a majority of officials in the executive departments or another body specified by law if Congress so chooses must provide a written declaration to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives that the president is unable to perform their duties.
Section 4 further stipulates that the president can resume their role as president by a written declaration to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives their ability to do so.
That is unless the vice president and a majority of executive officers or another body specified by law state within four days that the president cannot perform his duty.
In this case, Congress must convene within 48 hours to decide the issue if not in session and then decide the matter within 21 days.
Should the House and Senate determine by at least a 2/3s vote that the president is unable to perform their duties, the vice president will continue as acting president and exercise presidential power.
If the House and Senate do not reach a 2/3 vote, the president will resume their duties.
The 25th Amendment in Use
The 25th Amendment was ratified in February of 1967. It was first used in 1973 following the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew.
President Richard Nixon nominated Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan to fill the vacancy left by Agnew.
It was used again less than a year later when Vice President Ford replaced President Nixon after his resignation following the Watergate scandal. Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president.
In more recent years, House Democrats called on Vice President Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment in a failed attempt to remove President Trump from office. Republicans have made similar calls against Joe Biden.