Can Bill Clinton Be Vice President?

Bill Clinton
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The question of whether Bill Clinton could be elected vice president and be allowed to serve in that capacity surfaced during the 2016 presidential election when his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, jokingly told interviewers the idea had "crossed my mind." The question goes deeper, of course, than just whether Bill Clinton could be elected and serve as vice president. It's about whether any president who has served out his statutory limit of two terms as president could then serve as vice president and next in the line of succession to the commander in chief.

The easy answer is: We don't know. And we don't know because no president who's served two terms has actually come back and tried to win election to vice president. But there are key parts of the U.S. Constitution that appear to raise enough serious questions about whether Bill Clinton or any other two-term president could later serve as a vice president. And there are enough red flags to keep any serious presidential candidate from picking someone like Clinton as a running mate. "Generally speaking, a candidate wouldn’t want to select a running mate when there’s serious doubt about the running mate’s eligibility, and when there are many other good alternatives as to whom there’s no doubt," wrote Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law.

The Constitutional Problems With Bill Clinton Being Vice President

The 12th Amendment to the U.S.Constitution states that “no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.” Clinton and other former U.S. presidents clearly met the eligibility requirements to be a vice president at one point — that is, they were at least 35 years old at the time of the election, they had lived in the United States for at least 14 years, and they were "natural born" U.S. citizens.

But then comes the 22nd Amendment, which states that "no person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice." So now, under this amendment, Clinton and other two-term presidents are rendered ineligible to be president again. And that ineligibility to be president, according to some interpretations, makes them ineligible to be vice president under the 12th amendment, though this interpretation has never been tested by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Clinton has been elected to the presidency twice. So he can no longer be 'elected' to the presidency, according to the language of the 22nd Amendment. Does that mean he is "constitutionally ineligible" to serve as president, to use the language of the 12th Amendment?" asked journalist Justin Bank. "If so, he could not serve as vice president. But finding out would certainly make for an interesting Supreme Court case."

In other words, writes Volokh in The Washington Post:

"Does 'constitutionally ineligible to the office of President' mean (A) 'constitutionally barred from being elected to the office of President,' or (B) 'constitutionally barred from serving in the office of President'? If it means option A — if 'eligible' is roughly synonymous, for elected offices, with 'electable' — then Bill Clinton would be ineligible to the office of president because of the 22nd Amendment, and thus ineligible to the office of vice president because of the 12th Amendment. On the other hand, if 'eligible' means simply 'constitutionally barred from serving,' then the 22nd Amendment doesn’t speak to whether Bill Clinton is eligible for the office of president, since it only says that he may not be elected to that office. And because there’s nothing in the constitution that makes Clinton ineligible for the presidency, the 12th Amendment doesn’t make him ineligible for the vice presidency."

Cabinet Position Are Also Problematic for Bill Clinton

Theoretically, the 42nd president of the United States would have been eligible to serve in his wife's cabinet, though some legal scholars might raise concerns if she were to nominate him to secretary of the Department of State. It would have placed him in the line of succession to the presidency, and should his wife and her vice president have become unable to serve Bill Clinton would have become president — an ascension some scholars believe would have been in violation of the spirit of the Constitution's 22nd Amendment prohibition on president's serving a third term.

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Your Citation
Murse, Tom. "Can Bill Clinton Be Vice President?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Murse, Tom. (2020, August 26). Can Bill Clinton Be Vice President? Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "Can Bill Clinton Be Vice President?" ThoughtCo. (accessed February 6, 2023).