What's the 25th Amendment? Purpose & Use in Simple Terms

, Staff Writer
Updated November 10, 2021
25th Amendment note over the US Constitution
    25th Amendment note over the US Constitution
    zimmytws / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

Are you wondering, "What's the 25th Amendment"? This important amendment provides guidance for replacing the United States president, including the circumstances under which this can be done and the procedures that have to be followed.

What's the 25th Amendment?

The 25th Amendment is an amendment to the United States (U.S) Constitution. This amendment was added to the constitution in 1967. It specifies the procedures that must be followed when it becomes necessary to replace the president or vice president of the United States. It lays out succession based on several circumstances in which it could become necessary to implement a succession plan to ensure that the role of president is not ever vacant.

Presidential Replacement

Under the 25th amendment, the procedures to replace the president of the United States are as follows:

  • If a sitting president dies or resigns from office, the vice president will become president.
  • If a president temporarily becomes unable to perform the duties of the office, the vice president would become the Acting President until such time that the president becomes capable of assuming duties again.
  • If the vice president and a majority of the executive department heads declare in writing that the president is unable to discharge the duties and powers of the office, then the vice president will become Acting President.

If the president is to be replaced by any means other than death or resignation, a written declaration must be submitted to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives.


Vice Presidential Replacement

If the vice presidency were to become vacant, the 25th amendment specifies that the president would be responsible for nominating a replacement. However, before a new vice president can be seated, the individual's appointment must first be confirmed by a majority in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. As such, the process for replacing the vice president is similar to the process of appointing cabinet members.

Why Was the 25th Amendment Created?

The 25th amendment was proposed and adopted after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which took place in 1963. This tragic event brought awareness to the importance of having a clear procedure in place for dealing with a situation in which a president ceases to be able to serve.

  • Congress voted to approve the 25th Amendment on July 6, 1965.
  • By February 10, 1967, all of the states had ratified the 25th Amendment.
  • The 25th Amendment was certified less than two weeks later by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • The 25th Amendment was officially added to the Constitution on February 23, 1967.

How Many Times Has the 25th Amendment Been Used?

You might be surprised to learn that the 25th Amendment has been invoked a total of six times.

  • 1973 - President Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to serve as vice president following Spiro Agnew's resignation. He was confirmed in the House and Senate.
  • 1974 - Following Nixon's resignation due to Watergate, Gerald Ford transitioned to the role of president.
  • 1974 - Newly seated President Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller to fill the vice-presidential vacancy. He was confirmed in the House and Senate.
  • 1985 - Before undergoing surgery in 1985, President Ronald Reagan temporarily transferred presidential power to George H.W. Bush.
  • 2002 - President George W. Bush temporarily transferred power to Dick Cheney while he underwent a medical procedure.
  • 2007 - Prior to another medical procedure, President Bush again temporarily transferred power to Cheney.

Understanding Government and the Constitution

Every American should be familiar with the United States Constitution and its amendments. Now that you're familiar with the 25th Amendment, learn about examples of checks and balances in the U.S. Constitution. From there, explore examples of separation of powers in government and life. Dig even deeper by exploring different types of government structures around the world.