Q: How did President John F. Kennedy’s assassination lead to a Constitutional amendment?
A: According to the National Constitution Center, it was Feb. 10, 1967, that two states, Nevada and Minnesota, made the Constitution’s 25th Amendment a reality, clearing up questions about presidential succession that dated back to the founders’ time.
President John F. Kennedy’s death Nov. 22, 1963, led a united Congress to push for the key constitutional change. Kennedy’s sudden passing accelerated an argument about a constitutional change that had been in the works in Congress in 1963.
By 1963, Congress was debating an attempt to amend the Constitution to clear up all succession matters and add a procedure for dealing with a leader who became unable to perform the office’s duties temporarily or permanently.
The influential Senator Estes Kefauver had started the amendment effort during the Eisenhower era, after it was proposed by the American Bar Association, and he renewed it in 1963. Kefauver died in August 1963 after suffering a heart attack on the Senate floor.
Senator Birch Bayh had replaced Kefauver on the Senate subcommittee that considered constitutional amendments, and he tried to get a version of the Kefauver amendment approved in Congress in 1964, after Kennedy’s death. That first effort failed, but Bayh, with President Lyndon Johnson’s support, proposed it again right after Johnson’s inauguration in January 1965.
Within three months, the House and the Senate agreed on the wording of what would become the 25th Amendment, and in July 1965, Nebraska became the first state to ratify the proposed amendment. Minnesota was the 37th state and Nevada was the 38th state to ratify the amendment, both Feb. 10, 1967, making it the law of the land.
Section 1 of the 25th Amendment made it clear that the vice president became president when the presidency became vacant under three circumstances: death, resignation, and removal from office. Section 2 gave the president the power to name a new vice president, if that office became vacant, with the permission of Congress.
The amendment’s other two sections detail the process for the vice president to serve as acting president if the president was unable to perform his or her official duties, and how to resolve disputes about the president’s ability to discharge official powers.
The 25th Amendment would receive its first test in October 1973, when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. Gerald Ford became the new Vice President in December 1973, after President Richard Nixon nominated Ford for congressional approval.
Ford himself invoked the 25th Amendment nine months later, when he nominated Nelson Rockefeller as vice president, after Nixon’s resignation.
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