Twenty-fifth Amendment

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an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1967, establishing the succession to the presidency in the event of the president's death, resignation, or incapacity.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is the Twenty-fifth Amendment?

The Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States clarifies the succession of the president in the case of their death, resignation, or incapacity. The Twenty-fifth Amendment also states how the vice president is to be replaced if that office is vacant.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment is one of only 27 amendments—changes or additions—that have been made to the Constitution since it was adopted. It can also be written as the 25th Amendment or Amendment XXV. It has four sections.

The first section explicitly states “In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.” This clarifies the ambiguous wording in Article II of the Constitution about what power the vice president would actually have and for how long.

The second section explains how a new vice president would be chosen if needed: “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.”

The third section states that the president is able to transfer their powers to the vice president through a written declaration and to regain them with another written declaration.

The fourth section states what can happen if a president is “unable” to perform their duties but is unable to transfer power or refuses to do so. In such cases, the powers of the presidency can be transferred to the vice president if the vice president and a majority of the executive cabinet submit a formal declaration that the vice president is assuming the powers of the president. The president can then retake office with a written declaration. However, if this is opposed by the vice president and the cabinet, Congress then has the authority to decide the dispute. The rules make it very difficult for the vice president to remain as president if the president opposes it—a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress is needed to uphold such a situation.

Why is the Twenty-fifth Amendment important?

The Twenty-fifth Amendment was proposed on July 6, 1965, and ratified on February 10, 1967. The amendment was motivated by concerns about the question of presidential succession following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. At the time, Vice President Lyndon Johnson assumed the office of the presidency in accordance with the precedent set by Vice President John Tyler in 1841 when he assumed the presidency upon the death of President William Harrison. The Twenty-fifth Amendment officially made this precedent the law.

The Twenty-fifth Amendment was applied for the first time in 1973, when President Richard Nixon, with the approval of Congress, appointed Gerald Ford as his vice president to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had resigned. In 1974, the Twenty-fifth Amendment was invoked again when Ford became president upon Nixon’s resignation and then appointed Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president.

The third section of the Twenty-fifth Amendment has been used three times, all of which involved the president undergoing a medical procedure. In 1985, Vice President George H. W. Bush served as the acting president for President Ronald Reagan. In 2002 and 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney served as the acting president for President George W. Bush.

The fourth section of the Twenty-fifth Amendment has never been used, although the possibility of invoking it has been discussed. In 1987, members of President Reagan’s staff considered invoking section four due to worries that his mental state was declining, but no further action was taken.

During the presidency of Donald Trump, critics of Trump who considered him unfit to serve as president argued that the fourth section should be invoked to remove him from power. The fourth section was also widely discussed in reference to President Trump after he was infected with the COVID-19 virus in 2020.

Why is the Twenty-fifth Amendment trending?

During the presidency of Donald Trump, critics of Trump who considered him unfit to serve as president argued that Section 4 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment should be invoked to remove him from power. The fourth section was also widely discussed in reference to President Trump after he was infected with the COVID-19 virus in 2020.

On January 6, 2021, interest in the term Twenty-fifth Amendment surged after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, where Congress was set to certify the electoral vote count to confirm Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. Trump was widely criticized for encouraging his supporters to take such violent actions, leading many lawmakers and others to call for him to be removed from office through the use of the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

Did you know … ?

On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot in a failed assassination attempt and his staff prepared a letter in anticipation of the need to transfer his power to the vice president in accordance with the procedures laid out by the Twenty-fifth Amendment. However, President Reagan recovered from the shooting and the letter was never signed or used.

What are real-life examples of the Twenty-fifth Amendment?

The Twenty-fifth Amendment has only been used a handful of times. Section four of the amendment, which deals with presidents who are unable to perform their duties, has never been used.

What other words are related to Twenty-fifth Amendment?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

According to the Twenty-fifth Amendment, the vice president becomes the president if the president dies or resigns.

How to use Twenty-fifth Amendment in a sentence