Happy birthday, 25th Amendment

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the 25th Amendment (ratified February 10, 1967).

President John F. Kennedy’s funeral. Source: Abbie Rowe/National Park Service (Wikimedia Commons).

Here’s what you need to know.

What it does:

It established the presidential and succession process and the process for replacing a vice president.

Why it was added:

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 wasn’t the first time the U.S. had to deal with presidential succession. In fact, there had already been seven times that a vice president assumed the presidency due to the president’s death. But when Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, went over a year without a vice president, more people began to agree that better guidelines were needed. The 25th Amendment established the process for selecting a new vice president, a process that was useful within a few years, when President Richard Nixon’s vice president resigned. (His appointed replacement, Gerald Ford, became the only president who was not elected to the role of president or vice president.) This amendment also clarified the succession plan in the case of presidential death or disability. (This issue is also covered by the Presidential Succession Act.)

Word-For-Word:

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 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.

Civic holidays are occasions to commemorate America’s history, celebrate our rights and responsibilities as citizens, and learn about our constitutional ideals. Download a PDF of the 2013 Civic Calendar here.

Holly Munson is Assistant Editor of Constitution Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center.

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