President Gephardt? If the Democrats win back the House on Tuesday, the new speaker might be Richard Gephardt rather than Dennis Hastert.
President Thurmond? If the House elections turn out to be very close, the House could be without a speaker at the beginning of the session. (This happened repeatedly in the 19th century.) Next in line under the succession law is the Senate's president pro tem, the nonagenerian South Carolina Republican, Strom Thurmond. If Republicans win back the Senate, 51-49, Thurmond could conceivably, by declining to vote for Cheney and thus denying Cheney the needed 51 votes, crown himself king.
President Albright? The presidential succession laws currently in place probably violate the Constitution. Only "officers of the United States" may be picked as presidential successors, and senators and representatives are not such officers, properly speaking. The next person on the statutory succession list is the secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Our first woman president!
But wait. Albright was not born in the United States, so she is ineligible. Next in line is secretary of the treasury Larry Summers.
There is a lesson in all this headspinning speculation: Our current systems of presidential selection and succession are a mess-various accidents and crises waiting to happen. Why not amend the Constitution and provide for direct popular election for all future presidential contests?
Related in Slate and on the Web
Emily Yoffe's "Explainer" draws a bead on the Electoral College system. Jack Shafer's "Press Box" explains why Bill Clinton can run for vice president. Click here for the 12th Amendment and here for the 25th Amendment.
Akhil Reed Amar is Southmayd Professor of Law at Yale Law School.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola
The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.
Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.
Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore
And schools are getting worried.
Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War
Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough
So they added a little self-immolation.
Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem
Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology.