May a former U.S. president be part of a successor's administration? More specifically, may Hillary Clinton make Barack Obama a member of her cabinet?

Are there even any historic precedents for such a move?

  • 30
    US administrations don't have ministers; they have cabinet members.
    – jwodder
    Sep 14, 2016 at 12:37
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    Let us not forget that William Taft (#27) became a Supreme Court Justice after being President.
    – abelenky
    Sep 14, 2016 at 20:34
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    When I saw the title for this question, I thought it was asking if a former President could be a preacher, which seemed like an odd thing to ask. Pretty sure the First Amendment would invalidate any laws against that. I've proposed an edit for the title to say 'cabinet member' instead of 'minister.'
    – reirab
    Sep 15, 2016 at 3:37
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    @Insane Well, over here we usually get news in our own language. So the name of the post is usually translated. So the "US Secretary of State" is called "US-Außenminister", because that's what his job would be called in our country. Because of that it is very probable that the OP just fell victim to a "false friend". Sep 15, 2016 at 6:32
  • 3
    @Alexander It's a good thing our Secretaries run Departments then, not Ministries ;)
    – Geobits
    Sep 15, 2016 at 12:39

5 Answers 5


The relevant legislation appears to be the United States constitution (which defines some of the processes and procedures around the office of the President) and the United States Code (which includes some description of the scope of the Executive branch). The only specific proscription on the activities of former presidents seems to be the 22nd Amendment which states that

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

It's fairly clear that this doesn't apply to other executive offices.

In practice this is fairly unlikely to happen, if only because of the distracting sideshow of having one's predecessor in the job hanging around. The only remotely similar case I can think of is that of William Taft who eight years after serving as America's 27th President was appointed Chief Justice, and thus head of the judicial branch.

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    @a25bedc5-3d09-41b8-82fb-ea6c353d75ae The Twelfth Amendment: But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States. Sep 14, 2016 at 20:09
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    No, because there were no combined tickets before that
    – Ben Voigt
    Sep 14, 2016 at 21:29
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    Interestingly, nothing stops an ex-president from running for the House of Representatives, being elected, rising to become the Speaker of the House, then after both the President and VP passed away, owing to [looks at current candidates] a murder-suicide perhaps, returning to his old job for a single term Sep 14, 2016 at 23:19
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    @Malvolio Alternatively, be elected as President zero or one times, and then rise from VP to President multiple times.
    – JBentley
    Sep 15, 2016 at 8:50
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    @erdekhayser There is a school of thought that the 12th doesn't apply to the 22nd. The 22nd refers to being elected whereas the 12th refers to the office itself. So for example, the constitution requires that only natural born citzens who are are 35+ years old and have been a resident for at 14 years+, are eligible to the office, which means the same restrictions apply to the office of VP. However, you could have a person who is eligible to the office of President, but not eligible to be elected to that office, who then wouldn't be restricted by the 12th and could run for VP.
    – JBentley
    Sep 15, 2016 at 10:04


Short answer: No, there is nothing formal preventing a former U.S. President from being a cabinet-level official (like a departmental Secretary).

The relevant law is the Appointments Clause of the Constitution (emphasis mine):

He (the President) shall have the Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The Constitutional allows the President to appoint members of his government, but requires the "advice and consent" of the Senate. In practice, this translates into requiring Senate approval ("confirmation") of appointees.


A former (two-term) President is not barred from serving in a cabinet position simply because they are ineligible to become President. In fact, persons ineligible to hold the office of President are allowed to hold cabinet secretary positions. Although these offices are in the line of succession to the Presidency, ineligible persons are skipped if succession ever gets to their office. At the time of this writing, the US Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, is an example of this practice. (See, for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=United_States_presidential_line_of_succession&oldid=739075188#Current_order). Although the Secretary of the Interior would normally be number 8 on the list, right behind the Attorney General, as long as Jewell holds the office and is ineligible, the order skips to the Secretary of Agriculture.

Finally, for completeness, I'll note that there seems to be some dispute over whether former Presidents are ineligible to serve as President, or merely ineligible to be elected President (i.e., making them eligible to rise to the office through succession) See, for example, the discussion in the National Review for the sort hair-splitting that this issue generates. For purposes of this question, it doesn't matter; either way a former President could be appointed to a cabinet position without running afoul of term limits to the Presidency.

  • 1
    This doesn't answer the question. The question is whether a former President can be a cabinet-level official. Sally Jewell is not a former president (afaik). Sep 14, 2016 at 15:32
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    @indigochild: It doesn't answer the whole question, but it answers the main objection that could be raised to a former president being appointed to such a position. Obama's two terms as president wouldn't prevent him from becoming Secretary of State, even though that position is normally 4th in the line of succession. If it weren't for the "skip over them" rule, that could be seen as a reason he couldn't take that position. Sep 14, 2016 at 17:21
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    I believe that there would be no "skipping" of a former president with respect to succession. The 22nd Amendment (which sets the President's term limit) speaks only to the election of a person as President. Succession is not election.
    – Rob
    Sep 14, 2016 at 17:57

William Howard Taft was President of the US, then later appointed to the Supreme Court (not an Executive position, yet still somewhat relevant). This was before the 22nd Amendment, but I wouldn't think that matters.


Although not prohibited, as a practical matter, this could create problems. If Hilary Clinton were to appoint Barack Obama to a post in her Cabinet, there might be a risk that he would "outshine" her, since he was President for 8 years, and she's the newbie.

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