United States presidential line of succession

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United States presidential line of succession refers to the laws governing who becomes President of the United States if the President dies in office, resigns, or is removed from office. The 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1967, specifies that the Vice President becomes President in the above cases. This amendment clarified an ambiguity in Article II that had persisted since 1841 (when John Tyler became the first person to assume the Presidency) as to whether the Vice President actually became President or merely assumed the duties of the President.

The 25th Amendment also codified the concept of the Acting President, in which the Vice President assumes the powers, but not the office, of the President if the President is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office". This determination may be made either by the President himself (in which case it is generally temporary, such as when the President is undergoing surgery) or by Congress.

If both the President and the Vice President are disabled or dead, the succession is determined by the Presidential Succession Law of 1947, which makes the Speaker of the House next in line, followed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, then the Secretaries of the Cabinet-level Departments in order of their creation. This last point is merely a tradition, and as new Departments are created or reorganized, the law must be amended to explicitly add their Secretaries to the list. Most recently, a bill was introduced to Congress to add the Secretary of Homeland Security to the list of succession, but it has not yet become law (as of June 2004).

No matter their position in the list of succession, a person must be eligible to be President under the Constitution in order to assume the office.

Contents

Current Order of Presidential Succession (As of 2007)

† Not eligible due to natural-born-citizenship requirement.

History

The Presidential Succession Act of 1792 was the first law to expand on the provisions outlined in Article II of the Constitution. It provided for the Vice President to be followed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, then the Speaker of the House, either of whom would service only temporarily until a special election was held to select a new President.

In 1886, the order of succession was changed again, and both the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate were replaced by members of the President's cabinet.

The Presidential Succession Law of 1947, as discussed above, established the current order of succession, and the 25th Amendment clarified the nature of the Vice President's role.

It is believed that, during the Cold War, a list of Presidential successors that numbered in the hundreds was drawn up in case of a massive catastrophe, but it was never codified as law. The subject of continuity of government in general again became a matter of great interest following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Along with Congressional hearings on the matter, a private commission called the Continuity of Government Commission, headed by Lloyd Cutler and Alan Simpson, is also investigating possible reforms in the area.

By customary practice, one member of the President's cabinet does not attend the annual State of the Union Address in the Capitol, in order to ensure continuity of government in the event of catastrophe.

Presidents by Succession

† Became Vice President on December 6, 1973, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and therefore the only person to serve as President without ever being elected President or Vice President

Bibliography

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