Is a former U.S. president in any way barred from becoming a cabinet member?

  • May a former U.S. president be part of a successor's administration? More specifically, may Hillary Clinton make Barack Obama a member of her cabinet?

    Are there even any historic precedents for such a move?

    Welcome to politics stackexchange. I removed a part of your question because it was completely speculative. We only answer factual questions here. But otherwise great first question on this site.

    US administrations don't have ministers; they have cabinet members.

    As the other answers have mentioned, there is nothing legally blocking this. However, its very bad from a PR perspective. In general once someone completes their presidency the expectation is that they ride off into the sunset and don't remain active in public politics anymore.

    While a former president would in no way be barred, it would be highly unlikely for a couple of reasons. For many (most?) politicians, this is "the top of the hill", anything else would feel like a step down. 2) I suspect many are delighted to retire from politics after that - it's a pretty demanding role.

    Let us not forget that William Taft (#27) became a Supreme Court Justice after being President.

    When I saw the title for this question, I thought it was asking if a former President could be a preacher, which seemed like an odd thing to ask. Pretty sure the First Amendment would invalidate any laws against that. I've proposed an edit for the title to say 'cabinet member' instead of 'minister.'

    @reirab Id agree with this edit, because I too thought OP meant a priest. Funny that someone would hear gossip about US politics and the election but not know we don't call our appointed officials ministers

    @Insane Well, over here we usually get news in our own language. So the name of the post is usually translated. So the "US Secretary of State" is called "US-Außenminister", because that's what his job would be called in our country. Because of that it is very probable that the OP just fell victim to a "false friend".

    @AlexanderKosubek Ah, that makes sense

    I've even seen English-language news channels targeted at non-British audiences, that describe the British Home Secretary as the "interior minister". Which seems reasonable, since that's also used in Britain as the English term for similar posts in non-English-speaking governments, but still struck me oddly the first time I heard it. So even English-language sources might translate English job titles.

    Some languages make sense, and then there's English. Everywhere else on the world, a ministry is headed by a minister.

    @Alexander It's a good thing our Secretaries run Departments then, not Ministries ;)

    @Geobits Makes sense: Most of the time, they act like small children in a department store.

    In the US government, Secretaries run Departments. Which is good, because if Secretaries ran Secretariats they'd be sitting atop race horses. Or perhaps Departmentaries could run Departments, meaning we'd need a new word which would just confuse everyone. In the US, ministers run churches, if they're Protestant (and there's a ton of those), unless they're priests or rabbis or imams running cathedrals or synagogues or mosques or heaven alone knows what else. Still, in America everyone can believe what they like. I believe I'll have a stiff drink... :-}

    Yes, Hilary Clinton *could* appoint Barack Obama to run a department of the government. Problem?

  • origimbo

    origimbo Correct answer

    5 years ago

    The relevant legislation appears to be the United States constitution (which defines some of the processes and procedures around the office of the President) and the United States Code (which includes some description of the scope of the Executive branch). The only specific proscription on the activities of former presidents seems to be the 22nd Amendment which states that

    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. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

    It's fairly clear that this doesn't apply to other executive offices.

    In practice this is fairly unlikely to happen, if only because of the distracting sideshow of having one's predecessor in the job hanging around. The only remotely similar case I can think of is that of William Taft who eight years after serving as America's 27th President was appointed Chief Justice, and thus head of the judicial branch.

    The Constitution is pretty clear that you cannot be *elected* into office at some point. What if Hillary chose Bill Clinton as her VP, then she dies? Bill is now president without being elected, no? Or would you say by voting for a Hillary/Bill ticket, *that* is the electing part?

    @a25bedc5-3d09-41b8-82fb-ea6c353d75ae A Vice President is elected, yes.

    But could you argue though that (per this clause only), that Bill *could* be president? "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice..." Technically he wasn't elected to the office of President. (I'm being pedantic I know) or would a court "split" that sentence, where electing is separated from the office elected to?

    @a25bedc5-3d09-41b8-82fb-ea6c353d75ae The Twelfth Amendment: `But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.`

    @erdekhayser - Aha! That's it. So, before that Amendment, someone could have snuck in that way. Thanks for that, someone in Legislation caught that loophole too.

    No, because there were no combined tickets before that

    As @BenVoigt points out, the 12th Amendment changed the legislation that stated that the presidential candidate that came in second place became the VP. After the 12th was ratified, the VP was voted for on a second ballot. The President and Vice President did become "running mates" (e.g. campaign as a combined ticket) until Lincoln and Johnson in 1860.

    Interestingly, nothing stops an ex-president from running for the House of Representatives, being elected, rising to become the Speaker of the House, then after both the President and VP passed away, owing to *[looks at current candidates]* a murder-suicide perhaps, returning to his old job for a single term

    @Malvolio Alternatively, be elected as President zero or one times, and then rise from VP to President multiple times.

    @erdekhayser There is a school of thought that the 12th doesn't apply to the 22nd. The 22nd refers to being *elected* whereas the 12th refers to the *office* itself. So for example, the constitution requires that only natural born citzens who are are 35+ years old and have been a resident for at 14 years+, are eligible to the *office*, which means the same restrictions apply to the office of VP. However, you could have a person who is eligible to the *office* of President, but not eligible to be *elected* to that office, who then wouldn't be restricted by the 12th and could run for VP.

    @JBentley That's pretty interesting, and would probably make for a good follow-up question. I feel like the intention of the law is to prevent anyone from serving more than 2 terms in office, but the way the laws are written now, there may be an edge case that is unaccounted for.

    There's a great summary of how the eligibility works, including re: line of succession here: Fundamentally though - if you're not eligible to serve as president, you're not eligible to be in the line of succession for president. It's about eligibility, not election.

    @jbentley but at the time of the 12th amendment, the word "electable" for not exist, so someone who is not electable to an office is in no sense eligible to it. (Note the use of "ineligible to" rather than "ineligible for".) Taking that fact into account, a former president who has been elected twice is disqualified from succeeding to the office.

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