“For this reason,” Hook continues, “we should consider human rights as an important issue in regard to U.S. relations with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. And this is not only because of moral concern for practices inside those countries. It is also because pressing those regimes on human rights is one way to impose costs, apply counter-pressure, and regain the initiative from them strategically.”

This a memo that was given to Tillerson to bring him up to speed on politics.


It seems like Tillerson, who didn't have much experience in politics, had to be brought up to speed by the people within the U.S. government, because Trump chose him despite his lack of experience. Is there any procedure or rule that prevents the President to put in place a person without experience that was implemented before or after the nomination of Rex Tillerson?

  • 5
    And you could have motivated the Q with much better info than that quote. Like Tillerson's prior career, although in view of Trump's campaign promise to fight the "deep state" and "drain the swamp", the appointment of a business leader who had little connection with government/diplomacy doesn't strike me as so surprising. (OTOH him negotiating some energy deals in Russia probably qualified him well enough in Trump's eyes wrt foreign affairs. And Tillerson himself touted his good personal relation with Putin as a basis for Trump trusting him to rebuild the US-Russia relations.) Aug 26, 2022 at 10:17
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    BTW, Hook was Director of Policy Planning under Tillerson. It was pretty much Hook's job to outline what the Dept's policies should be and present those proposals to Tillerson. The memo got leaked because it contained outlandishly cynical/"realpolitik" material put down in writing. Given his background, nobody imagines Tillerson was an idealist when it came to human rights, whom had to be "schooled" on how to be transactional with that. Aug 26, 2022 at 10:37
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    And BTW the actual memo begins with a ref to Tillerson's May 3 talk in which he pretty much expresses the same (relativistic) ideas "if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals or our national security interests". So Hook is just trying to earn "brownie points" there with his boss by emphasizing the historical debate (as he sees it) within the dept. between idealism and realism on that matter. Aug 26, 2022 at 11:03
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    The title and the body are inconsistent. Are you asking whether there is anything preventing the president from nominating anyone they want (answer: no) or are you asking whether there's anything stopping them from appointing anyone they want (answer: yes, the Senate). Aug 27, 2022 at 4:24

3 Answers 3


There is, but it's just the requirement for Senate confirmation (like many other presidential appointments).

If a President and a majority of the Senate agree that a person can be Secretary of State then they can be Secretary of State. If the Senate thinks that a nominee doesn't have enough experience, then the nominee won't be Secretary of State. If the Senate thinks that a nominee does have enough experience (or doesn't think that experience matters, or is outweighed by other factors), then the nominee will be Secretary of State.

If voters care about any specific standards for people appointed to be Secretary of State, they need to vote for Presidents and Senators who will enforce those standards during the nomination and confirmation process. This is supposed to be the primary "defence" against unsuitable people being appointed to positions of power.


As the other answers state, there are no restrictions in law on who can be Secretary of State. It's always worth backing that up with sources, and it's worth noting that some of the people under the Secretary do have legally mandated requirements. So the absence of any restrictions on the Secretary in that section is further evidence of such a lack on the Secretary themselves.

Specifically, there is a section of the US Code (see section (f)) titled "Qualifications of certain officers of the Department of State". Briefly summarized, it says that either the director of HR or their deputy needs to have HR experience, the officer in charge of diplomatic security or their deputy needs to have security experience, and the one in charge of narcotics trafficking and law enforcement (or their deputy) needs to have law enforcement experience.

Additionally, in the part establishing the office of Secretary of State (paragraphs (a) 1 and 2), there are no requirements specified other than Advice and Consent.

While it's not impossible that such requirements could be specified elsewhere, they would be expected to be in one of those two spots. Since they aren't listed with the Senate A&C requirement and aren't listed with requirements for certain offices, they most likely don't exist.

  • The Senate has no power to restrict who a President nominates. It would be devilishly imprudent, but in theory a President can even nominate a non-citizen. Obviously, they would never be confirmed. The Constitution makes nomination (as such) a Presidential power. So no law can restrict that power because passing laws is a Congressional power. Congress' power to moderate a President's power to appoint his cabinet is limited to confirmation (or withholding one) and impeachment.
    – wrod
    Aug 28, 2022 at 1:50
  • @wrod - While there's a technical distinction between a law on who can be nominated and one on who can be actually appointed, there isn't a practical one. If the law establishing the position of SoS (or even just a Senate rule) specified that anyone unqualified by its definition is immediately refused consent, is that any different from saying they can't be nominated in the first place? That said, the positions I cited as actually having restrictions are also advice-and-consent positions. I think that's pretty good evidence that such a restriction is valid.
    – Bobson
    Aug 28, 2022 at 2:14
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    a Senate rule can be used to create such a restriction, but a law cannot. Secretaries are "public Ministers and Consuls." Lower level positions are authorized by "...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." So the procedure for nominating cabinet-level positions is established by the Constitution itself and is not subject to being changed by law.
    – wrod
    Aug 28, 2022 at 3:50
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    @wrod: It should also be emphasized that a Senate rule, in theory, can be overridden by a simple majority at any time. In practice, this is rare (see e.g. the filibuster's continued existence), but it's always possible.
    – Kevin
    Aug 28, 2022 at 22:42
  • @wrod - I can see the distinction you're making, but I'm not convinced that "he shall nominate" is inherently exclusive of all other restrictions. Do you know if this has ever actually come up?
    – Bobson
    Aug 29, 2022 at 14:01

No, there is no written procedure which restricts the President's choice of nominee for Secretary of State.

However, there is written procedure which restricts whether the President's nominee can be confirmed and actually take office. Namely, the Senate has to approve the nomination.

So in effect, the President's choice is limited by the Senate, unless the President thinks its okay to leave the office of Secretary of State vacant for the duration of his / her term.

  • I just found out that apparently confirmation is not enough. Apparently, the President has to actually appoint the person who's confirmed. And apparently this was this goes back to Marbury v. Madison.
    – wrod
    Aug 30, 2022 at 6:05
  • @wrod The events with preceded that court case is just bananas. One of those "only in America" things I guess. Aug 31, 2022 at 9:35

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