Birch Bayh to be honored at 25th Amendment celebration

Former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh will be honored this week by the American Bar Association for his work as an attorney and for being the only non-founding father to draft two enacted amendments to the Constitution.

The ABA will be presenting Bayh with a Presidential Citation during a special event celebrating the anniversary of the 25th Amendment. Bayh authored the 25th Amendment following the assassination of President John Kennedy to strengthen the provisions for presidential and vice-presidential succession.

Co-sponsored by Fordham University School of Law and the Bipartisan Policy Center, the anniversary program, The First 50 Years of the 25th Amendment, will feature a discussion on how the amendment was drafted and ratified as well as the incapacitation and succession issues it addresses. The event will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon May 10 at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

“The passage of the amendment is important because it not only filled a longstanding need of an orderly process for presidential and vice-presidential succession, but it also represents the important and enduring legacy of the lawyer’s role in public service,” said ABA president Linda Klein. “The American Bar Association is proud to have joined together, in a bipartisan effort, with state and local bars to ensure the passage and ratification of the 25th Amendment.”

Bayh, a Democrat, served three terms in the U.S. Senate from 1962 to 1980.

Bayh’s amendment passed the Congress in 1965 and was ratified by the states in 1967. It created a process for an orderly transition of power in the case of death, disability or resignation of a president and a method for filling the vice presidency whenever a vacancy occurs.

The amendment was first used in 1973 when President Richard Nixon nominated Rep. Gerald Ford, R-Michigan, to become the vice president after the resignation of Spiro Agnew. Less than a year later, it was used again when Ford became president after Nixon’s resignation and he nominated Nelson Rockefeller, former governor of New York, to fill the vice presidency.  

In 1971, the 26th Amendment, the second authored by Bayh, was passed and ratified. It lowered the national voting age from 21 to 18, enfranchising an estimated 11 million Americans.

Bayh did author two other amendments, the Equal Rights Amendment and the Direct Popular Vote Amendment, but they failed to gain the necessary support.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which would have barred discrimination on the basis of gender, passed both houses of Congress but failed to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. Indiana ratified the proposed amendment in January 1977, the last state to do so.

The Direct Popular Vote Amendment, which would have abolished the electoral college, was not able to get the support needed to pass the Senate. In a forward to John Koza’s 2006 book “Every Vote Equal,” Bayh explained his push for the popular vote.

“In this day and age of computers, television, rapidly available news, and a nationwide public school system, we don’t need nameless electors to cast our votes for president,” Bayh wrote. “The voters should case them directly, themselves. Direct election is the only system that counts every vote equally and where the voters cast their ballots directly for the candidates of their choice.”

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