(Episode 40) Butterfly Dominoes: The 20th, 22nd, 23rd, and 25th Amendments
In this episode, we cover four different Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. What they all have in common is that they deal with the office of the Presidency.
The 20th Amendment deals with peaceful succession and transfer of power after elections. Specifically, it sets when the various terms begin, and what happens if the President (or Vice President) dies before the term starts. It also addresses the "lame duck" period - i.e., the time after the election has happened, but before the new term has started, when the "old" (sometimes reelected; sometimes voted out) Congress is still meeting. It was a pretty straightforward change at the time; actually, no amendment was ratified more quickly.
The 22nd Amendment officially sets a 2-term limit for the President. Washington set the tradition early on that Presidents would only seek and serve two terms of office. But World War II and the nation's desire for stability during that time led to a break in that tradition by FDR (and other world leaders). Thus, Congress decided to make the 2-term limit official rather than simply traditional. Fun fact: only 12 Presidents were not elected for a second term.
The 23rd Amendment (which some might call the most obscure) gives the District of Columbia the ability to vote for the President and Vice President by permitting them to vote for electors to send to the Electoral College. But the Amendment doesn't address DC's representation in Congress. DC doesn't have full representation, but it does get treated like a state sometimes.
Finally, the 25th Amendment sets out what happens if the President becomes unable to serve - whether the President dies, resigns, declares himself unable or unfit to serve, or gets declared to be unable or unfit. The original Constitution dealt with the possibility of death, but not what happens with filling the vacancy created in the Vice Presidency. It also didn't deal with the idea that a President didn't die, but otherwise became unable to fulfill the duties of the office (i.e., has surgery, is in a coma, becomes disabled, etc.). This concept got renewed focus when President Eisenhower was not in great health (and asked his VP, Nixon, to be acting President if anything happened), and when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The Amendment is clear, but also not clear - what constitutes an "inability" to serve, for example? (Fun fact: the Amendment has a typo.)
For more information, visit:
- The Constitutionality of Lame Duck Lawmaking by Edward J. Larson
- Jeff Shesol's essay One President at a Time
- Twenty-Second Amendment: Let It Be by Gillian Metzger
- U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (1995), holding that states cannot alter the qualifications for U.S. Congress set by the Constitution by enacting their own provisions for term limits.
- More information on the designated survivor.