What Is the Presidential Line of Succession?

(Last Updated On: May 29, 2019)
What Is the Presidential Line of Succession?

What Is the Presidential Line of Succession?

Maybe you came here after watching that TV show Designated Survivor, or maybe you just really want to know what happens if the American president is removed. But either way, you’re curious to know more about the United States presidential line of succession, and we’ve got some answers for you.

Oh, and if you think the whole “Designated Survivor” is just a super dramatic TV thing, it’s totally real and we’ll get to that.

The presidential line of succession in the United States is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s the list of people who succeed the president should the president no longer be able to serve during their term. This includes removal from office through impeachment, untimely death, resignation, etc.

How Is the Presidential Line of Succession Determined?

Article II of the US Constitution gives Congress the power to create a line of succession beyond the vice president. The current Presidential Succession Act was adopted in 1947, and last revised in 2006.

The US presidential line of succession is determined in a pretty simple fashion. It starts with the current President, followed by the Vice President, Speaker of the House, President Pro-Tempore, then the Presidential Cabinet.

As far as the Cabinet goes, the successor is the head of a given department. The order of the departments is determined by the age of each. The only exception here is when one department is organized to replace another. For example, the Department of Defense was organized to replace the Department of War. So in the line of succession, the DoD takes the spot of the DoW, rather than being pushed to the bottom. If a cabinet member cannot run for president (they are not a naturally born US-citizen, for example), that member is skipped to the next one.

As of 2019, the line of succession is as follows. This list does not take into account which members of the current presidential cabinet are eligible for presidency.

Presidential Line of Succession List

Order Acting President
1 President
2 Vice President
3 Speaker of the House
4 President pro tempore of the Senate
5 Secretary of State
6 Secretary of the Treasury
7 Secretary of Defense
8 Attorney General
9 Secretary of the Interior
10 Secretary of Agriculture
11 Secretary of Commerce
12 Secretary of Labor
13 Secretary of Health and Human Services
14 Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
15 Secretary of Transportation
16 Secretary of Energy
17 Secretary of Education
18 Secretary of Veterans Affairs
19 Secretary of Homeland Security

Who is the Designated Survivor?

So, what about that designated survivor we talked about earlier? No, it’s not Kiefer Sutherland. The designated survivor is an actual component of the presidential line of succession.

The function of the designated survivor is in the name, they’re the one designated to survive in a time of crisis. They may also be referred to as the “designated successor,” but “designated survivor” is so much more dramatic.

How does the US government go about handling its designated survivor?

It’s fairly simple, and the function of the designated survivor is utilized whenever a large count of the presidential line of succession is in a single location (think the State of the Union Address).During these times, the designated survivor is shoved far away and secured in a location (obviously) nobody knows. Should all the members in the line of succession die, the designated survivor therefore becomes the US acting president.

Of course, the designated survivor isn’t a randomly chosen individual. They first must be eligible to be president. Traditionally, the designee is also a member of the presidential cabinet.

And just so you can be a little more paranoid about nuclear weapons, the designated survivor always has someone with them carrying around a nuclear football. This is also known as the briefcase that authorizes the use of nukes. And to put you even more on edge, the designated survivor generally isn’t briefed on what to do if they suddenly become acting president. Let’s just hope we never have to find out!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this one on the British Line of Succession to the Throne.

And test your knowledge of the line of presidential succession in the quiz below!



About Kyler 728 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.

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