Governing in Times of Crisis: Presidential Succession and Congressional Continuity

May 11, 2004


Dr. Colleen Shogan
Professor of Political Science
George Mason University

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In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, and in light of ongoing national security concerns, it is imperative that lawmakers ensure the continuity of our three branches of government. If United Flight 93 had succeeded in its original mission to decimate the Capitol, it is likely that the United States would have been thrown into a confusing situation that might have instilled doubt, rather than confidence, in America's governing institutions. If there were mass vacancies in the House of Representatives or a large number of incapacitated senators, Congress would be unable to function for many months. For the chief executive, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, a measure designed to insure a stable line of succession in the event of crisis, poses constitutional and practical concerns regarding its implementation.

For these reasons, a reevaluation of both congressional and presidential succession requires the timely attention of legislators and political decision-makers. In this lecture, the shortcomings of our current succession system will be analyzed, along with several proposed legislative solutions. Participants will leave with a greater understanding of the political, legal, and economic argmuents surrounding the ongoing succession debate.