Presidential Succession Act Needs Revision


Daniel Foster gently suggests that perhaps Daniel Inoue’s accession to the role of President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate we ought to rethink that job’s spot in the presidential order of succession:

The Senate has just sworn-in Sen. Daniel Inouye (D., Hawaii) to be President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate. That puts him third in the line of succession to the presidency.

Should we rethink this? The President Pro Tempore is by its nature as much a ceremonial role as a substantive one, and its occupant is almost certain to be of advancing years.

There are a number of problems with the current version of the Presidential Succession Act, of which this seems to me to be the most egregious. It would make more sense to assign the presidency to a randomly selected member of the Senate than to give the job to someone who’s likely to be too old to do it effectively.

More broadly, there’s an argument that putting members of congress in line for succession is unconstitutional, and it’s definitely unwise. If succession passes to the Vice President or another member of the incumbent administration, then one can expect a fair amount of continuity in terms of policy and personnel. If succession passes to the Speaker of the House we can easily imagine awkward shifts in policy and an artificial sense that the personnel needs to be overhauled very rapidly. What’s more, if something happened that killed the VP and incapacitated the President (or vice versa) the possibility of a switch in partisan control of the government could make the cabinet unduly hesitant to invoke the 25th Amendment. The current setup is a disaster waiting to happen, and refusing to fix it simply because a cataclysm is unlikely is really foolish—just look at the financial meltdown or the gulf oil spill. In this case the cost of fixing the problem would be almost nothing.