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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    When I saw your username I was tempted to ask if you intended this to be "rules-as-written" or "rules-as-intended". – indigochild Sep 14 '16 at 18:50
  • @indigochild :P – KRyan Sep 14 '16 at 18:57
  • I've wondered about this for a while. The question about the cabinet positions prompted me to see if this was already asked. Guess you beat me to it. – Ellesedil Sep 14 '16 at 21:46
  • 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. – IllusiveBrian Sep 15 '16 at 12:37
  • The ineligibility of naturalized citizens was widely discussed in the case of Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. – arp Jun 14 '18 at 2:23

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 Mar 19 '18 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. – Michael Seifert Nov 26 '18 at 17:45

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.

  • 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. – Martin Schröder Sep 22 '16 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 Sep 22 '16 at 15:54

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