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October 30, 2008

This head scratcher from my old Con Law prof:

The most important function of a vice president is to serve as a spare president. Using the spare president in the ordinary course of business is as unwise as driving on one’s spare tire. Spares should be kept pristine, for when they are really needed.

If the president resigns or is removed from office, a vice president who has been involved in the activities of the executive branch is also likely to be at risk for impeachment. Just as important, a vice president who is enmeshed in the affairs of the president cannot offer a fresh start for the executive branch.

For this to make any sense one has to assume that the citizenry actually want a “fresh start” for the executive branch in all situations. If the President falls on dire personal misfortune, or even if the President is impeached, the people may want things to continue as they had under that President’s administration (minus whatever malfeasance caused us to reach that point). There may even be a situation where, as with President Clinton, any move towards impeachment is seen as being politically motivated and half or more of the populace may not want a “fresh start.”


Article I of the Constitution, which describes the authority of the legislative branch, says that “the vice president of the United States shall be president of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.” Aside from the job of replacing a president who dies or is unable to serve, the only vice presidential duties that are spelled out in the Constitution are legislative in character.

Legislative in “character” is a stretch. Still, the office is not legislative in fact. There’s no actual role of the vice-president in legislation. The office cannot produce bills. The office cannot produce amendments. The office cannot sit in committee, or chair a committee. The office can only vote if there is a tie. If the vice-president has legislative duties, and is therefore a legislative office, because they can break a tie, then the president has legislative duties because the president can veto a bill.

Obviously, we don’t see it that way.

The occasions for the VP to actually “preside” over the Senate is ceremonial, like during the State of the Union addresses.

Sorry, Palin is still wrong.

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