I know someone who has already served two1 terms as president cannot be elected president again, and there is apparently an argument about whether or not such a person can be elected to vice president.

But presumably a former president can go and become Representative of their district.2 And as a Representative, they could conceivably become Speaker of the House. That puts them third in the line of presidential succession. Various positions further down the line are similarly conceivable.

As such, it seems possible that a former president, not eligible to be elected to another term, could find themselves in a position that would otherwise succeed to the presidency. Is there any caveat in the line of succession that “skips” a former president in such a case?

  1. Or one-and-a-half terms, in cases of someone succeeding a president and then getting re-elected.

  2. John Quincy Adams did, for example, though admittedly he only had one term and that was well before the twenty-second amendment anyway.

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    Not enough for an answer, but Sally Jewell, the current Secretary of the Interior, is not eligible to be in the Presidential line of succession because she is a UK-born naturalized citizen, so presumably all the normal laws apply for Presidential eligibility for those in positions in the line of succession. Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 12:37
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    The ineligibility of naturalized citizens was widely discussed in the case of Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
    – arp
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 2:23

3 Answers 3


The 22nd amendment only covers term limits for being elected president. There is nothing about a person becoming president via succession that would prevent a person who was already elected finishing a term someone else was elected to. The Law that sets the line of succession for president does specifically exclude those not eligible to be president, however a previous president would still meet all those criteria.

A term limited president would become president if they were the next in line when the need arose. The wording of current law seems to indicate that it would be possible, but no person has actually gotten close to doing something like this, so there isn't relevant case law on the matter.

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    1. Serve two terms as President. 2. Get yourself in the VP slot for the next guy and have them retire as soon as you both take office. 3. Be President-for-Life. 4. Profit!!!
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 20:49
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    @reirab: That might or might not run afoul of the 12th Amendment, which states that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States". Legal scholars disagree on whether these two amendments taken together prohibit a plan like yours. It'd be a fun little constitutional crisis if anyone tried it. Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 17:45
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    This answer is too strident. There is, in fact, an unresolved question as to whether a president who has served two terms can serve as vice-president in any case and as to whether they are permitted in the line of succession. Hilary Clinton's team believed that the joke scenario of a Clinton/Clinton ticket was unconstitutional, for example.
    – gormadoc
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:40

Any such case would go to the supreme court very quickly if possible. The supreme court is supposed to be to interpret the constitution including the intent of it when it was written. As the intent of this amendment seems to prevent any president from becoming president for a 3rd term, the supreme court would likely become involved when (hypothetically) Hilary proposes Bill or Obama for Secretary of State. If that happens, the exact wording of the Supreme Court decision will be significant.

Most likely, the ex-president will be declared unable to serve as president for a third term. This means they would be skipped in the succession like Sally Jewell would be.

If this happens in a national crisis (say a nuclear warhead took out a large portion of the chain of command quickly) and has not been resolved previously, this debate might not matter and the ex-president will likely take over quickly but temporarily. The "elected" wording will be accepted until the state of emergency has been resolved. Frankly, this is a practical decision as I would rather have any living former president take over (assuming they are in good health and not suffering from dementia) in that situation than the Secretary of the Interior.

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    It would matter especially in a national crisis involving the National Command Authority: You seriously don't want any confusion about who can release nuclear weapons. Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 15:50
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    @MartinSchröder I mean the debate over the intent would be overshadowed by the national crisis. The exact wording is clear (per Ryathal) and the ex-president would become president again with little debate because we would not have time. We would probably end up debating intent soon after. It would be better to have the Supreme Court generate a ruling in advance, however.
    – kaine
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 15:54
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    @kaine except Ryathal is wrong. Someone who has reached the term limit established by the 22nd amendment is in fact constitutionally ineligible to be president, so would be skipped in the line of succession.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 11:58

If you look at the reverse of this it's pretty simple. Lyndon Johnson took over for Kennedy but was still eligible for two terms afterwards.The two term limit only applies to running for president not being president.

In the real world, this would probably never happen. Anyone who has been president is set for life. They have a pension, the best healthcare in the world and secret service protection for life. What is there to be gained by taking a lower job? You could say they want to improve the country or whatever but they could probably do just as much as "former president" writing books and going on talk shows than they could as vice president.

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    What is there to be gained? Power. Anyone who gets to be President has to have a driving passion for power (otherwise they would be defeated by other people who do). Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 6:10
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    LBJ has little to do with this scenario. The 22A allows for someone who acted as president for less than two years to still be elected twice by explicitly forbidding somebody who acted as president for more than two years from being elected more than once.
    – gormadoc
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:37
  • @MartinBonner- does the vice president really have that much power?
    – Savage47
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 1:31
  • @gormadoc- Your comment "has little to do with this scenario". Explain how what you said is relevant and then we can discuss it.
    – Savage47
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 1:32
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    Savage47: @gormadoc is pointing out that LBJ does not fall within the scope of the question because he served less than two years of the term to which JFK was elected. LBJ could have been elected in 1968 because JFK was assassinated after January 20, 1963. Had JFK been assassinated before that date, LBJ would not have been eligible in 1968. The question concerns only presidents who have exhausted the term limit, which LBJ had not.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 31, 2021 at 12:09

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