25th Amendment Ratified: Presidential Succession
The beauty of the U.S. Constitution is not that it is a perfect document, but rather that it can be amended to make it better. For example, the original wording was ambiguous about what happens when a sitting president dies, becomes disabled, resigns, or is removed from office—does the vice president become the actual president, or just an acting president? It also was unclear how a vacancy in the office of the vice president is filled. To clarify succession issues an amendment was required, and on Feb. 10, 1967, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified to address this situation. The opening sentence of the 25th Amendment directly answers the most pressing question:
Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
The ratification of the 25th Amendment was reported in this copyrighted article printed by the Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington) on Feb. 10, 1967:
Succession Amendment Becomes Law
Washington, Feb. 10.—(AP)—The 25th Amendment dealing with presidential disability became part of the Constitution today when it was ratified by the 38th state—three-fourths of the 50 states.
But whether the 38th to ratify was Minnesota or Nevada remained a matter of uncertainty.
North Dakota’s House voted last night to ratify the amendment, supposedly making that state the 37th to complete action, but the finality of the decision was later questioned. The result may be decided later today.
If North Dakota ratified yesterday, then Minnesota became the 38th state to approve the amendment. Nevada completed action later.
The amendment immediately became effective since neither the President nor Congress is required to take any further action in the ratification process.
The ratification order was further complicated by time zones. Nevada’s Senate acted an hour 13 minutes after Minnesota’s. But there is a two-hour time-zone difference between the two states, meaning that Nevada actually acted before Minnesota.
The amendment sets up machinery to fill vacancies in the office of vice president and to give the vice president the role of acting President in cases of presidential disability.
The amendment sets out circumstances under which the vice president should take over the duties and responsibilities of the presidency in the event the President becomes unable to perform them. They are:
If the President states in writing that he is unable to carry out his duties.
If the vice president and a majority of the heads of executive departments believe there is a presidential disability and send Congress a declaration to that effect.
Once the President believed he was able to resume his duties, he would notify Congress. Congress could, by a two-thirds vote, override him and keep the governmental reins in the vice president’s hands.
There would be a vote if, within two days after the President’s declaration that he was able to resume his duties, the vice president and a majority of the executive department heads told Congress they regarded the President as still disabled.
Another provision of the amendment provides for filling a vacancy in the vice presidency by a nomination by the President, subject to confirmation by Congress.
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