United States presidential line of succession
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.
Current Order of Presidential Succession (As of 2007)
- Vice President (Dick Cheney)
- Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi)
- President pro tempore of the Senate (Robert Byrd)
- Secretary of State (Condoleeza Rice)
- Secretary of the Treasury (John Snow)
- Secretary of Defense (Robert Gates)
- Attorney General (Alberto Gonzales)
- Secretary of the Interior (Dirk Kempthorne)
- Secretary of Agriculture (Mike Johanns)
- Secretary of Commerce (Carlos Gutierrez†)
- Secretary of Labor (Elaine Chao†)
- Secretary of Health & Human Services (Mike Leavitt)
- Secretary of Housing & Urban Development (Alphonso Jackson)
- Secretary of Transportation (Norman Mineta)
- Secretary of Energy (Samuel Bodman)
- Secretary of Education (Margaret Spellings)
- Secretary of Veterans' Affairs (Jim Nicholson)
- Secretary of Homeland Security (Michael Chertoff)
† Not eligible due to natural-born-citizenship requirement.
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.
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
- John Tyler (April 6, 1841, following the death of William Henry Harrison)
- Millard Fillmore (July 10, 1850, following the death of Zachary Taylor)
- Andrew Johnson (March 4, 1865, following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln)
- Chester Arthur (September 20, 1881, following the assassination of James Garfield)
- Theodore Roosevelt (September 14, 1901, following the assassination of William McKinley)
- Calvin Coolidge ((August 3, 1923, following the death of Warren Harding)
- Harry Truman (April 12, 1945, following the death of Franklin Roosevelt)
- Lyndon B. Johnson (November 22, 1963, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy)
- Gerald Ford† (August 9, 1974, following the resignation of Richard Nixon)
- Sotos, John (2004). Succession to the Presidency -- A Chronology. Retrieved June 3, 2004.