It is frequently said that the current term limit for a US President is 10 years, consisting of inheriting the presidency for a 2 year caretaker term, then elected twice for 8 years, not necessarily consecutive.

Here's a hypothetical question. I do not expect it to happen ever, but would it be legal under current US laws?

The President dies, and the VP takes over for slightly less than 2 years. In the next election, he does not want to run again for President, but stands again for VP. He and his partner are elected. Then two years later the President resigns, and the VP is again elevated to nearly 2 years as caretaker President. Repeat for a third term, nearly 2 years as caretaker President. Then he decides to run for President himself, and gets elected twice. Thus he gets 14 years as President, total.

This is extremely unlikely to happen, but is it possible?

1 Answer 1


The relevant part of the 22nd amendment to the US constitution says:

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once.

The question is dues "more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President" mean "more than two years of any single term ..." or "more than two years of any and all such terms taken together". The former is closer to the plain meaning of the text, but the latter is almost surely what Congress intended, given the history of the 22nd. There is no case law, because there is no case in which a person has been elected VP and become president in two or more different terms. Indeed there is no case of a person who, having become president on the death or resignation of a president, then ran again as VP. There is no telling how a court would rule in such a situation, but I rather suspect that the 10-year limit interpretation would be upheld.

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    Why would the courts uphold some purported ten-year limit in a text that does not contain the word "ten"? On the face of it, someone could become president from the vice presidency (or from another spot in the line of succession) any number of times for any number of years and still be eligible to be elected to the presidency one time. If congress and the states had wanted to impose the term limits through some different technical mechanism, they could have, but they didn't.
    – phoog
    Dec 30, 2020 at 15:07
  • @phoog By "the ten year limit" I mean the usual assumption only a single partial term as president to which another person had been elected would be found compatible with being elected twice. But as I also said, that is just a guess, and there is no way to know how the Court would rule. Honestly i would be very surprised if the occasion for such a ruling arose. But it is certainly possible. John Quincy Adams was elected to the House after his presidency, a thing that has surely not happened in the last 150 years or more. Taft is the only man to have been CJ & pres. Exceptions happen. Dec 30, 2020 at 15:49
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    Ah, I see. I suppose it would be reasonable to conclude that portions of multiple terms totaling more than two years might trigger the provision limiting a person to being elected a single time, but a strict reading of the text says otherwise. I don't see any way to conclude that a person could be limited to being elected no times under any circumstances, even if they had spent decades in the presidency through a scheme whereby they were repeatedly elevated to the office from the line of succession by the resignation of newly inaugurated presidents every four years at 12:01 on January 20th.
    – phoog
    Dec 31, 2020 at 15:40
  • @phoog No, the 22nd clearly did not contemplate that state of affairs. Any such interpretation would be a huge stretch, although what has been done with the commerce clause power during the 20th C shows how far the Court can stretch things when they choose. Dec 31, 2020 at 15:46

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