Perhaps by the time this column is published a new speaker of the house will have been selected and the issue resolved, for now. At present, with no member of the House wanting the job, the idea of having someone not presently a member selected by the House of Representatives is seriously being considered. Such would break a 225-year tradition and the Constitution.
Those arguing for a speaker not elected by the people do so on the basis that the Constitution does not require that the speaker be a House member. This is true, but a careful reading of the document could lead to no other conclusion. We begin with Article I, Section I: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” The Constitution then separates the two bodies, but common to each is that all members are elected, the House by the people and the U. S. Senate by the states. In Section 2, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.”
This is followed in Section 5, “The House of Representatives,” all elected members, “shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” If we start making exceptions for the position of speaker, making it for the other officers as well could follow. Impeachment is the process of removing elected officers. The idea of giving someone, not elected by the peoples’ representatives, as for instance a non-member speaker, power to remove someone who had been, runs counter to everything else that the founders did. This logic has never been challenged, until now.
Presidential succession, with the vice president replacing the president upon his death or inability to perform his duties, is assumed in the Constitution and established and utilized several times since. Although not in the Constitution as drafted, succession has been established since. Should the vice president also cease to be able to function, the speaker of the house is third in line to be president followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate — all elected offices. With all the specific requirements of the offices of House, or Senate, or President, it would be unconscionable that our Founders would allow someone not even an elected House member to be two heart beats from becoming president.
Amendment 25, dealing with presidential disability and vice presidential vacancies ratified February 1967, also may shed some light on the question. It definitely gives language to the practice of the vice president replacing the president with his demise or succession. It also allows the president to temporarily step down should he feel incapable of fulfilling his duties and reinstate his position when he again feels able to do so. In his absence the vice president temporarily becomes acting president. In either instance the Amendment directs him to correspond with both the Speaker of the House of Representatives (third in line for president) and president pro tempore of the Senate (fourth in line for president). These two officers of the legislative branch are also called into action should “the vice president and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments, or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Imagine the founders of Amendment 25 extending to an unelected house speaker the power to approve or disapprove a president’s right to resume his office.
No! There exists no language in the Constitution supporting a house speaker not elected in the same manner as every other House member, or playing a role of power over those who had the people as their constituency, or over an elected president or vice president. But there is much constitutional language that suggests otherwise. We were unable to determine who first advanced this absurd notion, but we hope that we have helped lay this question to rest.
To read more of Dr. Harold Pease’s weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.