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If I remember correctly in one Episode of Stargate SG-1, the president of the United States declares some state of national emergency (world was attacked by aliens) and was able to suspend elections, weaseling around the 22nd Amendment and being able to stay in office indefinitely by keeping up the emergency state.

Is it (under current law) actually possible for the US president to stay in office longer than the usual two terms of four years or even forever, by using some legal tricks?

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    For reference, the episode is S10E13, "The Road Not Taken". Elections are not actually suspended, but changed to a Plebiscite (i.e. people vote directly for the President, without the Electoral College, so each vote is worth the same - an increase in California, but a decrease in Wyoming), but the legitimacy of the voting process during martial law is questionable. – Chronocidal Jun 25 at 10:08
  • @Chronocidal Nice. I wasn't able to find out which episode it was to look up the actual details of how they made it work. – Takiro Jun 25 at 10:20
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The short answer is no. The longer answer is that this framing isn't particularly helpful.

There are a number of overlapping factors that prevent the president from legally suspending elections like some tinpot dictator. In particular Article II Section I of the Constitution and the 12th, 20th, 22nd, and 25th amendments which combine to define presidential elections and succession.

Terms ending are not directly linked to elections being held. Even if elections could not be held for some catastrophic reason, the president should still leave office at the end of their term according to the line of succession (if no elections occurred at all many of their terms will have ended at the same time, but there should be a President Pro Tempore of the Senate because Senate terms are staggered). This is all theoretical since it's never been tested and hopefully never will be.

Perhaps an even more boring reason why the president cannot simply suspend presidential elections is that the federal government does not run elections. The state governments do. A state government may have the ability to suspend or reschedule an election, and there are rules in place for if a state fails to make a selection on the prescribed day. If they still haven't named electors in time for the meeting of the Electoral College, that state will simply not cast any votes.

The only legal way around any of this would be modifying the Constitution. Because of course you can make anything 'legal' if you change the definition of what 'legal' means.

At the end of the day though, the real world isn't a game. Even if you could find some obscure and bizarre legal loophole to override precedent, the law isn't a set of magic rules. Its just rules that we made up. Nobody would have to accept it. A democratic government governs with the consent of the people. Attempting to use force to subvert the will of the people would be how a president becomes a dictator.

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    +lots for "the law isn't a set of magic rules". This simple fact is often overlooked. – James K Jun 24 at 19:39
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    "the law isn't a set of magic rules" - also why the peaceful transition of power is not guaranteed, though it's happened many times over. If a President didn't want to leave and they had the support of the military, it would be tough to do much about it. – David Rice Jun 24 at 20:16
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am Jun 26 at 15:39
  • "the federal government does not run elections" The federal government is in charge of the election of the presidents. It's just that the people who vote in that election are chosen by the states. – Acccumulation Jun 27 at 17:27
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The Constitution sets a presidential term at 4 years, and the 22nd amendment pretty firmly sets a two-term maximum:

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...

Since this was a Constitutional amendment, there is no legal way to extend a presidential term after 8 years (or technically 10 if you were a VP-turned-Pres mid-term) without passing a new amendment to allow it. This applies even if elections themselves are suspended for an emergency - the president's term is up when it's up, regardless of whether there's anyone else to take up the office.

Whether or not there's a illegal but effective way to stay president after two terms would be pure speculation.

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    There is a legal way: convince the congress and at least 3/4 of the states to amend the constitution. – phoog Jun 24 at 17:18
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    I don't see, in that quoted text, a limit to how many times I can be Vice-President and then ascend to the Presidency. (Just how many times I can be directly elected...) – TOOGAM Jun 25 at 13:26
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    @TOOGAM you'd also need to continually either be appointed VP first or serve no more than two years each four-year cycle. (Art XII, "But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.") – Kevin Jun 25 at 20:21
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    @JMK - Only if they've only served one term. As Kevin quoted (and referenced here), you have to be eligible to be President in order to be eligible to become VP. So yes, but it doesn't get them any more time than they'd otherwise have. – Bobson Jun 25 at 21:33
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    A former President could become the speaker of the house and, should the P and VP become unable to perform their duties, they would be next in line... or any other succession post. There is no hard limit except through being elected to the post: so presumably if you could block the P/VP elections, as long as you can get Speaker of the House you'd be President. – TemporalWolf Jun 25 at 21:53
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Absolutely. There's a simple loophole in the 22nd amendment which allows this to occur:

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice

And combined with the 25th amendment, which came two decades later:

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Confirmation is different than election. The counter-argument is the 12th amendment:

But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States

But again, the 22nd amendment only defines eligibility in the within the context of election. Thanks to the 25th amendment, it is possible to be President without being elected President or Vice President as demonstrated with Gerald Ford.

So imagine if Joe Biden was elected President in 2020 with Elizabeth Warren as running mate. Warren resigns, and Bill Clinton is selected and confirmed as replacement. Biden then resigns as President, making Bill Clinton President via 25th amendment, completely avoiding the "election" mention in the 22nd amendment.

6

This question is not quite so ridiculously far-fetched as it sounds. The bad scenario is strategic nuclear strike on or immediately preceeding election day.

There is no lawful power to suspend elections, and that's the point of having regular elections. But on the other hand, elections can still be suspended. Should this happen, elections will be the least of the matters to worry about, but here goes.

The house turnover on election comes first, but let us say there has yet been no stability to run a new election. The Senate is live because not all of its members are out of office because the nuclear strike preparations are careful. The remaining Senator or Senators must deliberately invoke the following text from the body of the Constitution:

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days

Now it doesn't say the terms are extended, but there being no other remotely reasonable resolution that leaves any House sitting, that's what it will mean on that day. The resolution of the elector college comes next, and we have no candidates, so nobody gets any votes. The following text of Amendment XII controls:

If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

A law can always be passed and activated. If there is no president, there is nobody to veto it so it will go into effect. Typically the postmaster general would act as president after a nuclear strike because Congress now has too few members to follow the normal sequence, but if it does the Speaker of the House is actually first in line.

However the end of the twelfth amendment is still in force:

But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

This still does what it was always intended to do. The outgoing president is ineligible and so cannot become President directly no matter what Congress passes, and this blocks the last loophole; he cannot become Vice President and advance due to the office of President being vacant.

If you're trying to extend the president's first term pending re-elections, a law extending his first term into the second would be possible. But if it's already the second term, we now trace into the unwritten law. It's not explicitly stated anywhere, but the assumption of the entire writings is that no person who is ineligible to be elected president can be appointed president either. All the qualifications for office in the amendments (but curiously not the main body) assume the only way to become president is to be elected and are written likewise. In addition, the "Tyler Precedent" makes no sense otherwise.

But I believe they would ignore all of this and extend all the terms including President and deal with the Constitutional mess they just made later.

TL;DR No solution: the framers were very thorough.

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    "the Congress may by law" - they would probably decide to push through a law appointing the former President. (The 22nd Amendment wouldn't come into play here because this would not be an election.) If the nuclear strike happened in November (to stop the election), there is plenty of time for the President to sign this into law before their term ends. – Martin Bonner Jun 25 at 12:14
  • @MartinBonner: are you referring to trying to extend the first term rather than the second? – Joshua Jun 25 at 14:08
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    Either. President AOC is elected in 2024 and re-elected in 2028. There is a nuclear strike in November 2032. There is no election. In December 2032 Congress passes a law appointing AOC as President until elections can be held. She signs the law while still serving her second term. The 22nd Amendment prohibits her being elected for a third term, but it doesn't stop her being appointed. – Martin Bonner Jun 25 at 14:15
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    "If there is no president, there is nobody to veto it so it will go into effect." Technically, only true if congress is still in session ten days after sending it to the (empty) desk of the President. – Kevin Jun 25 at 19:42
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    @Kevin and then there's a chain of succession through the cabinet and halls of congress. I'm not sure how many people are on that list, but it's extensive. And there are procedures in place afaik (I'd set them in place) to make sure not all of them are ever in the same spot to prevent a single catastrophic event taking them all out. – jwenting Jun 26 at 9:04
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There is another, more circuitous route to the one given by John Heyer:

Let's assume you're finishing your 2nd term and are hankering for a third:

1) Get chosen as Speaker of the House. There are no limits as to who can serve as the speaker; even though the House has never chosen a non-member, legally they could. You could potentially be chosen while still President. Neat.

2) Stop the Electoral College from meeting the absolute majority (270 votes) required to win. The 22nd Amendment stops you from winning this race, so your job is to make sure no one else does. How you do this is up to you, but if you have some popular support, running someone as a third party to split the vote would seem the easiest way. Interfering in some way with the voting process could also get you there, as again, it's an absolute majority.

3) Prevent the House of Representatives from choosing a President from the top three. You're the Speaker of the House, but sadly you (probably*) cannot filibuster this. There are, however, two ways to fail this process: a) if a quorum of 2/3rds cannot be had or b) if an absolute majority does not agree.

*The 12th Amendment says "the House of Representatives shall choose immediately", which implies you don't have a choice. But who knows, Congress works in mysterious ways.

4) Prevent the Senate from choosing a Vice President (who would usurp your claim because he's the only guy in front of you). Same two exceptions apply: without a quorum or majority, a Vice President cannot be chosen.

5) Congrats, when you leave office, you, as Speaker of the House, are now the next in line for succession. Specifically:

if, by reason of death, resignation, removal from office, inability, or failure to qualify, there is neither a President nor Vice President to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President.

Presidental Succesion Act of 1947

You are now acting as President, despite not being elected. You can wave at the 22nd Amendment as you drive over it in The Beast. Note that it shot itself in the foot when it says:

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.

22nd Amendment

IF, as naysayers may say, elected was all encompassing, you wouldn't need any of that after "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice," Because the rest is there, we must assume that there are other ways to hold the office without being elected... like succession!

Naysayers may also say: "but the Constitution, through the Ineligibility Clause, prevents being the President and the Speaker of the House:

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

Ah, but here's the rub: "Although the Constitution does not require the Speaker to be a Member of the House, all Speakers have been Members." Speaker of the House then, does not grant Membership, and therefore the President is eligible.

  • There’s a bar on serving in two branches of government that would prevent a sitting president from being able to serve as Speaker of the House, even if chosen, unless they were willing to resign from the presidency in order to do so. – KRyan Jun 27 at 14:31
  • @KRyan I've edited to address that. – TemporalWolf Jun 27 at 17:42
  • Filibuster is a Senate thing, neither the Speaker nor any (other) Representative can filibuster anything. – Kevin Jun 27 at 23:20
1

Question summary/title:

Is there a legal way for US presidents to extend their terms beyond four years?

Detail:

Is it (under current law) actually possible for the US president to stay in office longer than the usual four years... by using some legal tricks?

Despite four "no" answers, including some heavily upvoted, the correct answer to this question as asked is yes.

The most obvious and historically common legal way for a US president to extend his or her term beyond four years is to be re-elected to another term.

The 22nd amendment limits how often a President can reuse this legal path to Presidency extension to once or twice, depending on how they got to be President in the first place. (For example, if Mike Pence became US President tomorrow, he could use the strategy up to twice, while the current President can legally only use this strategy once.)

This strategy has been demonstrated many times throughout the course of US history.


Question summary/title edited after this answer was posted:

Is there a legal way for US presidents to extend their terms beyond two terms of four years?

Detail:

Is it (under current law) actually possible for the US president to stay in office longer than the usual two terms of four years... by using some legal tricks?

Same answer. Pence, if he became President tomorrow, could be re-elected twice and thus be President for longer than 2*4 = 8 years.

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    Good point. The intention of the question and answers is clearly to ask whether it is possible to exceed the legal limits of 2 4-year terms, but the question was written in a confusing way. I've edited the question to fix that, but upvoted you for pointing out that problem – divibisan Jun 26 at 17:59
  • @divibisan Don't forget about the example in this Answer's second-to-last paragraph, showing how the same answer could allow someone to exceed 8 years. – WBT Jun 26 at 18:00
  • Yeah, that's a good point. I think this is a good answer – I just wanted to explain my edit so you didn't think I edited the question to spite you or something – divibisan Jun 26 at 18:01
  • Thanks for that note, though I still don't like "chameleon questions" edited to invalidate existing answers, especially when I'm the one who invested time into the invalidated answer. See this site's version of the meta post on that here. – WBT Jun 26 at 18:07
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    I don't think the question was ambiguous; I though the question was pretty clear and that my answer was correct. I don't think your edit really fixed things either. – WBT Jun 26 at 18:12
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This answer is going to be an attempt to enumerate various ways and whether or not they work, including several that have already been suggested in other answers.

  • Just running for in another election: no, as documented in Tal’s answer and Bobson’s answer, no one who has already served two terms (or one-and-a-half terms in the case of someone who succeeded to the presidency) can be elected. Any votes for them would be ignored.

  • Changing the Constitution, as suggested by Silent Grove’s answer: yes. Kind of the trivial answer, but it certainly would work. A Constitutional amendment limits presidential terms, a Constitutional amendment could un-limit presidential terms. Realistically, never going to happen—the US would break up first.

  • Succeeding to the presidency with less than half a term left, and then being re-elected twice, per WBT’s answer (and also noted in a few others): yes. This one is even perfectly plausible, but it can’t be continued indefinitely; at best you get an extra two years of presidency this way.

  • Confirmed to the Vice Presidency by the Senate, and then succeeding the presidency, as suggested by John Heyer’s answer: maybe. The Constitution says that no one ineligible to be president can be vice president. Technically the 22nd amendment lays out rules making someone ineligible to be elected president, rather than ineligible to be president, but whether or not that would stand up in court is questionable. Regardless, never going to happen, or if it did, it would again mean the end of the country.

  • Becoming Speaker of the House, and then succeeding to the presidency, as I asked about in another question: yes. Doesn’t even have to be as convoluted as TemporalWolf’s answer makes it out to be, if you get lucky. The Constitution has no bar on who can be Speaker of the House, so no worries about presidential eligibility. The line of succession also does not check eligibility. We also even have a precedent for a former president (John Quincy Adams) becoming a member of the House (though certainly never Speaker, and in any event he long predates the 22nd amendment and only served one term as president to begin with). Inconceivable in modern politics, where everyone expects, if not demands, former presidents to stay out of the limelight and even if one refused, they certainly wouldn’t make them Speaker.

  • Disaster or attack destroys too much of the US government to actually gain a new president, as Joshua’s answer suggests: sort of. There would be some point at which the old president would be as reasonable a candidate as anyone else, and would be able to continue governing purely out of lack of other options and everyone needing someone to lead. On the other hand, with this much of the US government destroyed, it’s hard to claim that there even is a US federal government anymore. Whatever is left is something different.

  • "The line of succession also does not check eligibility." Sorry, but it does. – Joshua Jun 27 at 15:49
  • @Joshua No, it doesn’t; the statement that no one who is ineligible for President is eligible for Vice President does not apply to anyone below that office but still part of the line of succession, and you do not move up each rank sequentially to become president: if P and VP are vacant, the Speaker of the House becomes president, not vice president and then president, which is what you seem to be claiming in your answer. If you have any reason to claim otherwise, you should offer that insight as another answer to my question, because your claim contradicts the answers there. – KRyan Jun 27 at 15:54
  • @KRyan sorry but Joshua is correct. The constitution sets eligibility requirements for the position of President, and the line of succession set by congress simply can't override that, period. The Presidential Succession Act 1947 acknowledges this: "Subsections (a), (b), and (d) shall apply only to such officers as are eligible to the office of President under the Constitution." … – Kevin Jun 27 at 23:48
  • …The only possible argument for getting in by line of succession is that the successor is not elected and the 22nd amendment only prevents someone who has hit the term limit from being elected again. If such a situation came up, though, you can bet it would be before the Supreme Court quickly. – Kevin Jun 27 at 23:48
  • @Kevin Then please, put that in an answer, in my question asking about it, because the claim there is the opposite. – KRyan Jun 28 at 2:51
0

Another route to Yes.

History is written by the victors, and the law, ultimately is what the Supreme Court determines it to be. A president who succeeded in packing the supreme court with loyal puppets could effectively do anything he or she pleased, and it could eventually be determined to be "Legal". Ethical? Moral? "Right"? These terms are even more slippery, but "Legal" really does boil down to the opinion of the supreme court of the particular moment.

protected by Alexei Jun 27 at 19:29

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