Amendment XXV, 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.
The 25rd Amendment, Section 2, explains that in a vacancy in the office of Vice President, the President must act to select a new Vice President, and the Congress must confirm the President’s choice. More broadly, this Amendment (ratified in 1967) clarifies the line of succession in the executive branch as established in Article II of the Constitution.
Without this Section or this Amendment, it was unclear what to do in the case of a Vice Presidential death or disqualification. Would the Speaker of the House ascend to this office? Would the people elect a new Vice President? Actually, neither happened. But before the 25th Amendment, the office of the Vice President was simply left vacant 16 times, and it stayed that way until the next election.
Eight times the President of the United States died, and the Vice President left office to become President. Seven times the Vice President died. Once, Vice President John Calhoun resigned in order to become a U.S. Senator.
But for the sake of continuity, and in order to keep the important office of Vice President filled, the U.S. ratified this Amendment. It makes it clear that the President will nominate someone, and the Congress will confirm. The Congressional confirmation also ensures that the people have a representative voice in approving the new Vice President.
After all, the office of the Vice President carries with it unique Constitutional duties and shouldn’t be left empty. According to Article I of the Constitution, the Vice President also serves as President of the U.S. Senate, and must cast a vote if there is a tie. The Vice President is also charged with overseeing, counting and presenting the votes of the Electoral College.
The Vice President also serves an important informal role as the assistant to, or spokesperson for the President. This role varies from administration to administration, depending on the relationship between the two leaders.
In American history since 1967, only two back-to-back occasions have called for the selection of a Vice President in the manner prescribed by Amendment XXV. In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. President Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to the Vice Presidency, and Congress confirmed him.
The following year, 1974, President Nixon resigned. This meant that Gerald Ford would ascend to the Presidency, allowing him to select a nominee for Vice President to fill his now-vacant office. He selected Norman Rockefeller, who was also confirmed by the Congress. This situation resulted in both a President and a Vice President who were not elected in a general election by the Electoral College.
Elections are essential to the American system of governance: They allow the people to select their own leaders. But, on the rare occasion that these elected leaders cannot perform their duties, Amendment XXV prescribes how new leadership will take charge.
Amendment XXV, Section 2, ensures that the people are at least represented in the selection of this new leadership; the requirement of the new Vice President’s confirmation by Congress means that Members of the House and Senate – the representatives of the people – can check the power of the executive in making this new appointment.
This Section of Amendment XXV serves the important purpose of maintaining the offices of President and Vice President in a manner consistent with government for, of, and by the people.
Hadley Heath is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.
June 6, 2012