The Twenty-fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
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 dis-charge 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.
The Twenty-fifth Amendment was proposed on July 6, 1965, and ratified on February 10, 1967. The amendment establishes the procedure for replacing the president or vice president when either office is vacant. The amendment, which was proposed in the aftermath of the assassination of President john f. kennedy in 1963, has been used during the presidential terms of richard m. nixon, gerald r. ford, and ronald reagan.
Section 1 of the amendment states that in the event of "the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President." This section reaffirmed a precedent set by Vice President John Tyler, in 1841, when President William Henry Harrison died after only one month in office. Tyler rejected the concept of serving as acting president during the remaining 47 months of Harrison's term. Instead, he announced that he would assume the full duties and powers of the office and become president.
Section 2 of the amendment established a new procedure for selecting a vice president if a vacancy occurs. This section was enacted in reaction to the situation after the Kennedy assassination. When Vice President lyndon b. johnson assumed the presidency on November 22, 1963, the Constitution left the office of vice president unfilled. Under the Constitution, if Johnson had died or been removed from office, his successor would have been the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who at the time was John McCormick, then in his eighties. Section 2 permits the president to choose a vice president, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of both houses of Congress.
Section 2 was used twice in the 1970s in the wake of political scandals in the Nixon administration. In 1973, Gerald R. Ford became the first person chosen as vice president using this method. Nixon appointed Ford to replace Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, who resigned in the face of criminal Bribery charges. When Nixon resigned in August 1974 because of the Watergate scandal, Ford became president. Ford then appointed Nelson A. Rockefeller as vice president under the authority of Section 2.
Sections 3 and 4 of the amendment deal with presidential disability. Several presidents have been temporarily disabled during their terms of office, but until the amendment, the Constitution contained no provision for the temporary replacement of a disabled president and provided no guidance as to who would have actual decision-making authority should the president become disabled. President woodrow wilson, for example, was seriously disabled by a stroke in 1919 and was totally incapacitated for a number of weeks. His wife, Edith, took on much of the responsibility of the office, an arrangement that aroused sharp criticism.Section 3 deals with a situation in which the president communicates in writing to Congress that he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties" of the office. The vice president then assumes the role of acting president. The vice president continues in this role unless and until the president is able to transmit a declaration to the contrary.
Section 4 deals with the more difficult situation of a president who is unable or unwilling to acknowledge the inability to perform the duties of the office. The section authorizes the vice president and a majority of the presidential cabinet members to determine whether the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office. If they agree that the president is incapacitated, the vice president immediately becomes acting president. The president may transmit to Congress a statement declaring that no inability exists and resume the duties of president. The vice president and the majority of the cabinet, however, may send a declaration to Congress within four days disputing the assertion of the president that he is able to discharge the duties of the office. If this happens, Congress must vote by a two-thirds majority in both houses that the president is unable to serve. Otherwise, the president will reassume office.
The disability procedures were used for eight hours on July 13, 1985, when President Reagan underwent surgery for cancer. Vice President george h.w. bush temporarily assumed the powers and duties of the office as acting president. Section 4 was also invoked on June 29, 2002, when President george w. bush, who was set to undergo a colonoscopy, temporarily transferred power to Vice President Dick Cheney. Vice President Cheney acted as president from 7:09 a.m. until 9:24 a.m.., when President Bush transmitted a letter announcing that he was resuming his duties.
Bellamy, Calvin. 2000. "Presidential Disability: The Twenty-Fifth Amendment Still an Untried Tool." Boston University Public Interest Law Journal 9 (spring).
Feerick, John D. 1992. The Twenty-fifth Amendment: Its Complete History and Applications. New York: Fordham Univ. Press.
Gant, Scott E. 1999. "Presidential Inability and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment's Unexplored Removal Provisions." Law Review of Michigan State University-Detroit College of Law 1999 (winter).
Gilbert, Robert E., ed. 2000. Managing Crisis: Presidential Disability and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. New York: Fordham Univ. Press.
Toole, James F., Robert J. Joynt, and Arthur S. Link. 2001. Presidential Disability: Papers, Discussions, and Recommendations on the Twenty-Fifth Amendment and Issues of Inability and Disability among Presidents of the United States. Rochester, N.Y.: Univ. of Rochester Press.