But then I get ahead of myself. The Twenty-fifth Amendment is our present concern. Not sweeping or broadly inspirational in orientation like others amongst its small family, this change to the Constitution is more of a clarification and nuancing of our American plan for governance. Comprised of four sections, it: 1) states that the Vice-President is first in order of presidential succession, 2) provides for the appointment of a new Vice-President when necessary, 3) allows for the President to write a statement of their inability to perform their duties, making the Vice-President the “Acting President,” and 4) details the procedure by which others may officially decide that the President is unable to fulfill his or her duties.
The amendment is basically a housekeeping measure that seeks to forestall controversy should questions arise about the office of the Chief Executive. While no amount of definition is probably going to stop a bit of chaos surrounding the potential enactment of (especially) Sections 3 and 4, at least we’ve got it in writing.
It is helpful for our nation to have such defined policy. Especially when considered together with the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, there is a clear path for the inheritance of the office in case of death, disability, or impeachment. That these laws were passed during the Cold War era makes sense, both due to the growing power of the Presidency and the potentially of far-reaching and devastating nuclear attack.
Yet considered together, the 25th Amendment and our laws regarding succession are a bit odd. After the Vice-President, the office would descend to the Speaker of the House, then the President pro tempore of the Senate, followed by the Secretary of State and the rest of the Cabinet. This person, whoever they might be, would serve for the remainder of the presidential term (up to nearly four years).
While in the case of the Vice President this would seem to make sense, I’m a little less than comfortable with our plan should such a disaster befall the nation that someone like the Secretary of Health and Human Services or Secretary of Energy inherit the office. First and foremost, it would have to be quite a tragic and dire turn of events (thus requiring strong leadership in response) for so many governmental figures to be eliminated in such a short time. Second, the odds that a designated successor, chosen for their skills in more specialized roles, would have any idea how to govern the nation, are rather low. Barring some sort of miraculous Laura Roslin/Battlestar Galactica situation, I really don’t want the Secretary of Education (whoever they might be at the time) to serve as the President of the United States for very long.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that if over half of the presidential term remains that a national election should take place so that the people themselves could choose a new leader? The inheritor of the office after the death(s) or removal from office would still be in charge during the interim. But in case they are not suited to the office or are not particularly desirous to inhabit it, this would provide a helpful option. Stability in terms of succession is important, yes. But so too is having person with the proper skill set in place to lead the country. All said, I think that 25th Amendment and/or the Presidential Succession Act could probably use a little tweaking.
There are certainly other options here. Your suggestions?