The 25th in Popular Culture
A surprise consequence of ratifying the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution is its frequent inclusion into American popular culture, particularly as a literary plot device in books, films and television.
Dozens of story lines have been developed in which invocation of the 25th Amendment occurs, is considered but ultimately isn't invoked, or at least merits a mention (usually along with a general discussion of what its provisions entail).
In "Full Disclosure" by William Safire, the President of the United States is blinded during an assassination attempt, resulting in an overzealous Secretary of the Treasury seeking to oust him by using the amendment.
"Father's Day" by John Calvin Batchelor, "Arc Light" by Eric L. Harry, "Warday: And the Journey Onward" by Whitley Strieber, and "The People's Choice" by Jeff Greenfield are also cases in which the 25th Amendment serves as a plot device.
In "The Contender," President Jackson Evans (played by Jeff Bridges) nominates Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) to fill a Vice Presidential vacancy under the 25th Amendment, choosing her over the choice of party leadership (Governor Jack Hathaway, played by William Petersen).
In "Dave," Presidential look-alike Dave Kovic (portrayed by Kevin Kline) is hired by the White House staff to impersonate President Bill Mitchell at a public event. But when a massive stroke befalls the President, Dave's part-time role suddenly becomes full-time. Ultimately the 25th Amendment is invoked when Kovic (as Mitchell) suffers another (fake) stroke, at which point Vice President Gary Nance (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) becomes Acting President.
In a remake of "Seven Days of May" entitled "The Enemy Within," military officer Col. "Mac" Casey (played by Forrest Whitaker) uncovers a sophisticated plot led by his superiors, the Vice President and a majority of the United States Cabinet, to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to unseat President William Foster (portrayed by Sam Waterston), who is seen as extraordinarily weak on national defense matters.
In "Air Force One," President James Marshall (played by Harrison Ford) is kidnapped when the aircraft is hijacked by Russian nationalists. Secretary of Defense Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell) and Attorney General Andrew Ward (Philip Baker Hall) collect signatures from other cabinet officers to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, but at the last minute, Vice President Kathryn Bennett (played by Glenn Close) refuses to sign the document that would temporarily install her as Acting President.
The series "24" utilized the 25th Amendment extensively as part of its plot line, with invocations of the amendment occurring at various points during the program's run.
"The West Wing" put an interesting spin on the 25th Amendment, putting two invocations of its provisions into its plot simultaneously. In a story arc that took several episodes over two seasons of the series, Vice President John Hoynes (played by Tim Matheson) resigns in a sex scandal, creating a vacancy in that office. Just two episodes later, President Josiah Bartlett's (Martin Sheen) daughter Zoe is kidnapped by terrorists. Bartlett, realizing he could act irrationally under the circumstances, transfers his powers and duties under Section 3 to House Speaker Glen Allen Walker (John Goodman) in the final scene of the show's fourth season. Walken continues in service for two episodes before Bartlett resumes office, his daughter having been rescued. The show would return to discuss the 25th Amendment during the final season as well, with President-elect Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) opting to appoint a Vice President following the death of his running mate, Leo McGarry (portrayed by John Spencer, who sadly had in fact died during the filming of the final season).
The short-lived series "Commander in Chief" could easily have been re-titled "25" for all its uses of the amendment as a plot device. It began with President Theodore Roosevelt Bridges dying from a stroke, elevating Vice President Mackenzie Allen (portrayed by Geena Davis) to the presidency. In just one season, the 25th Amendment would get quite a workout as Allen would succeed Bridges as President, then appoint former political rival Warren Keaton as her Vice President, only to suffer an appendicitis attack while awaiting his confirmation (putting the Speaker of the House in charge as Acting President), then having Keaton installed as Vice President only to resign shortly thereafter, etc., etc. The only thing "Commander in Chief" didn't seem to manage during its short run was to have the Secretary of Veterans Affairs act as President following a missile attack that killed everyone above him in the line of succession.
In "Madam Secretary," Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (portrayed by Tea Leoni) suddenly finds herself as Acting President of the United States when (a) communication with Air Force One (carrying President Conrad Dalton) has been lost, (b) the Vice President is medically disabled, having fallen ill at a golf tournament, (c) the Speaker of the House refuses to resign as Speaker to become Acting President for what he expects to be a brief period of time, and (d) the President Pro Tempore of the Senate is adjudged mentally incapacitated due to having suffered a stroke, and is asked to similarly refuse to resign his Congressional role.