Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Twenty-fifth Amendment (Amendment XXV) to the United States Constitution deals with issues related to presidential succession and disability. It clarifies that the vice president becomes president (as opposed to acting president) if the president dies, resigns, or is removed from office; and establishes procedures for filling a vacancy in the office of the vice president and for responding to presidential disabilities.[1] The Twenty-fifth Amendment was submitted to the states on July 6, 1965, by the 89th Congress and was adopted on February 10, 1967.[2]

Text and effect

Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution reads:

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 ...

This provision is ambiguous as to whether, in the enumerated circumstances, the vice president becomes the president, or merely assumes the "powers and duties" of the presidency. It also fails to define inability or how questions of inability are to be resolved.[3] The Twenty-fifth Amendment addresses these deficiencies.

Section 1: Presidential succession

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 1 clarifies that in the enumerated situations the vice president becomes president, instead of merely assuming the powers and duties of the presidency.

Section 2: Vice presidential vacancy

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 2 addresses the Constitution's original failure to provide a mechanism for filling a vacancy in the office of vice president. The vice presidency had become vacant several times due to death, resignation, or succession to the presidency, and these vacancies had often lasted several years.

Section 3: Presidential declaration

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 3 allows the president to voluntarily transfer his authority to the vice president (for example, in anticipation of a medical procedure) by declaring in writing his inability to discharge his duties. The vice president then assumes the powers and duties of the presidency as acting president; the vice president does not become president and the president remains in office, although without authority. The president regains his powers and duties when he declares in writing that he is again ready to discharge them.[4]

Section 4: Declaration by vice president and principal officers

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.[5]

Section 4 addresses the case of an incapacitated president who is unable or unwilling to execute the voluntary declaration contemplated in Section 3; it is the amendment's only section that has never been invoked. It allows the vice president, together with a "majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide", to declare the president "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office" in a written declaration to Congress. The transfer of authority to the vice president is immediate and (as with Section 3) the vice president becomes acting president – not president – and the president remains in office, though without authority.[6]

The "principal officers of the executive departments" are the fifteen Cabinet members enumerated in the United States Code at 5 U.S.C 101:[7][8][9]

A president declared unable to serve may issue a counter-declaration stating that he is indeed able. This marks the beginning of a four-day period during which the vice president remains acting president.[10][11] If by the end of this period the vice president and a majority of the "principal officers of the executive departments" have not issued a second declaration of the president's incapacity, then the president resumes his powers and duties.

If a second declaration of incapacity is issued within the four-day period, then the vice president remains acting president while Congress considers the matter. If within 21 days the Senate and the House determine, each by a two-thirds vote, that the president is incapacitated, then the vice president continues as acting president. If either the Senate or the House holds a vote on the question which falls short of the two-thirds requirement, or the 21 days pass without both votes having taken place, then the president resumes his powers and duties.[11][12]

Section 4's requirements for the vice president to remain acting president indefinitely – a declaration by the vice president together with a majority of the principal officers or other body, then a two-thirds vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate – contrasts with the Constitution's procedure for removal of the president from office for "high crimes and misdemeanors" – a majority of the House (Article I, Section 2, Clause 5) followed by two-thirds of the Senate (Article I, Section 3, Clause 6).[13][14]

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