The Twenty-Fifth Amendment: Incapacity and Ability to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office?

59 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2018 Last revised: 21 Jul 2019

See all articles by Lawrence J. Trautman

Lawrence J. Trautman

Prairie View A&M University - College of Business; Texas A&M University School of Law (By Courtesy)

Date Written: October 6, 2018


The Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a mechanism for the vice president’s assumption of the presidency when it is determined that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of office.”

Many instances of U.S. presidential or vice presidential incapacity have happened. Unbeknownst to the public and much of the governmental leadership at the time, for seventeen months wife Edith Wilson, with the assistance of the president’s physician and personal secretary, kept the true state of President Woodrow Wilson’s disabling health conditions secret from the American people. Wilson’s day-to-day duties had been abandoned or overseen largely by ill-equipped wife Edith, who served as the sole conduit between the president and the outside world. It is now clear that other past presidents have hidden their impaired physical and mental condition from the American public. What would have happened if John F. Kennedy or any of the other presidents, who have died in office, had continued to live for a prolonged period of time while unable to discharge the duties and responsibilities of the presidency? It was the death of President John F. Kennedy that prompted the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to gain ratification in 1967, “in part to establish a method to fill the vice presidency if it became vacant”.

On Saturday morning September 22, 2018, readers of The New York Times awoke to read a page-one story about how the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein had previously advocated the secret White House recording of President Trump, “to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.” Given this recent controversy, it seems timely and opportune to take a fresh look at the twenty-fifth Amendment, its history and purpose, how it works, and potential application.

Keywords: Twenty-Fifth Amendment, 25th Amendment, George W. Bush, Constitutional Law, Duty to Warn, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Executive Branch, Incapacity, John F. Kennedy, Mental Illness, Narcissism, National Commission on Presidential Disability and the Twenty-FIfth Amendment, Powers and Duties of Office

JEL Classification: H10, H12, K1, K4, N4, O33, O38, P16, Z18

Suggested Citation

Trautman, Lawrence J., The Twenty-Fifth Amendment: Incapacity and Ability to Discharge the Powers and Duties of Office? (October 6, 2018). 67 Cleveland State Law Review, 373 (2019), Available at SSRN: or

Lawrence J. Trautman (Contact Author)

Prairie View A&M University - College of Business ( email )

Prairie View, TX
United States

Texas A&M University School of Law (By Courtesy) ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Tarrant County 76102
United States

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