Enter Birch Bayh
At just 34 years old, Birch Evans Bayh, Jr. had already done well for himself politically, but the Indiana state legislator decided to move up in his world - way up - squaring off against three term incumbent Senator Homer Capehart for his seat. Reflective of the youth and vigor that two years earlier helped John Kennedy during his presidential run, Bayh upset the nationally prominent Capehart by a razor-thin margin, becoming among the youngest Senators in United States history.
As an up and comer, Bayh was given a plum assignment for any Senator - a seat on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. Upon Estes Kefauver's death in 1963, Bayh approached Judiciary Committee chairman James Eastland of Mississippi, asking to take over Kefauver's chairmanship of its Constitutional Amendments subcommittee. Eastland, who had been thinking of abolishing the subcommittee altogether, opted instead to give Bayh the chair in an effort to groom him.
Bayh responded by resurrecting a subcomittee which had essentially been left for dead. Studying prior efforts to address presidential succession and disability, Bayh determined that a constitutional amendment was needed to finally resolve the matter. Particularly, Bayh envisioned the amendment addressing three key points:
(1) Vice Presidential vacancies, which had happened 16 times previously due to either death, succession or resignation;
(2) Providing a solution to the question of presidential disability; and
(3) Revising the Presidential Succession Act of 1947.
Bayh reasoned that the best method of filling a Vice Presidential vacancy was to have the President nominate a successor, who would then be confirmed by Congress - ensuring that the new Vice President could work hand-in-hand with the President, yet be confirmed by representatives of the people, just as with the Electoral College. He reviewed the Kefauver and Keating plans as well, viewing the Kefauver plan as superior. But he also wondered, "What would occur if a President and his Vice President disagreed on the President's ability to resume office?"
These efforts took on new significance in the aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination. Incoming President Lyndon Johnson had suffered a near fatal heart attack in 1955, and the two men next in line to succeed him under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 had a combined age of 156.
After seeing Senate Joint Resolution 35 die with Kefauver, Bayh submitted his own bill, Senate Joint Resolution 139. It was mostly a hybrid of Kefauver's plan and the Eisenhower-Nixon agreement, but ultimately failed to pass the 88th Congress, seen by its members as too constrictive. But Bayh was undeterred, and it would be his effort that would finally get the questions of presidential disability and succession answered.