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UVA law professors explain what the 25th Amendment means

Updated: Jan. 7, 2021 at 3:38 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are asking Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment. Two law professors from the University of Virginia are weighing in on what this could look like if it goes into effect.

“The 25th Amendment is aiming at someone who is not mentally or physically able to serve. That is, if the person is in a coma or the person is insane,” law professor Deborah Hellman said.

After violence erupted in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, January 6, lawmakers from the commonwealth and other states asked Pence to remove President Donald Trump from office.

“If you think what’s happening is that the president has lost touch with reality - and I think arguably he has lost touch with the facts on the ground and basic reality - then you can say that’s a form of mental incapacity under which the 25th Amendment is an appropriate remedy,” Hellman said.

Hellman says the 25th Amendment is not the only option to remove a sitting president from office: “The Impeachment Clause is aiming at someone who has done something wrong. I think this raises an interesting issue of is what’s happening now: that the president behaved badly, was terrible in inciting violence yesterday. If you think that’s what’s happening, then impeachment is the way to go.”

The 25th Amendment has been used in the past, says professor Charles Barzun.

“There are a couple other times the 25th Amendment has been used, because it addresses a couple different issues. One of which is how to fill the role of vice president and that had to be determined during the Nixon administration and Ford administration,” Barzun said.

Barzun has doubts that the 25th Amendment will be enacted in this case: “I think it’s unlikely given the time frame and considerations, but you never know,” he said.

If you’re interested in learning more about the 25th Amendment, Hellman encourages you to visit the National Constitution Center’s website and click on the interactive Constitution page.

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