2003: Presidential Succession
Title text: Ties are broken by whoever was closest to the surface of Europa when they were born.
The United States presidential line of succession is the order of people who serve as president if the current incumbent president is incapacitated, dies, resigns, or is removed from office.
The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 was an act by the U.S. Congress that revised the presidential order of succession to its current order. This Act, though never challenged in the courts, may not be constitutional for two reasons. First, it is unclear whether members of Congress can be designated in the line of succession. Secondly, the Act allows for a cabinet officer to be "replaced" as acting President by a new Speaker of the House or a new President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
An additional concern regarding the Act is that after the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the line of succession list the members of the Cabinet in the order that their department was established with the oldest departments first, irrespective of the Secretary's personal fitness or appropriateness of the office. The Department of Homeland Security is in charge of the security and protection of the United States and its citizens and would probably already be privy to sensitive intelligence and briefings related to national security, but because it is the latest of the Departments to have been established (in 2003), the Secretary of Homeland Security is all the way at the bottom of the current Presidential line of succession at 18th, behind other Secretaries such as that of Agriculture (9th) and Education (16th).
Another practical concern is that, by including the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate immediately after the Vice President, there is a serious risk that the simultaneous death of the President and Vice President could cause the Presidency to change to the opposing party, which (in the current American political climate) could lead to serious political instability at the precise moment when the country is facing a national crisis, and could even encourage assassinations.
The full text of the Second Report of the Continuity of Government Commission can be found here: <https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06_continuity_of_government.pdf>. A short, readable summary, including the report's recommended new line of succession, is here: <https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-continuity-of-the-presidency-the-second-report-of-the-continuity-of-government-commission/>. The first 6 members of the commission's list are included in the current line of succession, after which they specificy that 5 new people should be appointed specifically for the purpose of succeeding the presidency if needed. Randall's list begins with these 11 people (stuffing all 5 of the new appointees into #7); afterwards, his list continues with more politicians, actors who have played Presidents, athletes, and others.
Randall's list omits the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, as well as many other cabinet positions. He is probably simply following the commission's report in this. But perhaps he does not find those people qualified to become President of the United States, or is concerned about the constitutionality of lawmakers becoming President. However, he does not seem to be concerned about constitutionality, because he included the entire line of succession to the British throne, most of whom do not meet the requirement to be a natural-born citizen of the United States. Article Two of the US Constitution establishes that the President must be a "natural-born" US citizen at least 35 years of age and had lived in the US for the last 14 years.
Randall's list includes several other people who also might not be eligible to become President either because they are not natural-born U.S. citizens (e.g., as of the time of the comic's publication, Serena Williams had withdrawn from her last match in the French Open to Maria Sharapova, who is Russian) or they are under 35 years of age (Russell Westbrook, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player at the time of the comic's publication, was only 29 years old). These would mainly be athletes due to the relatively global reach of the four major professional sports leagues in North America and the fact that 35 is quite old for a professional athlete, let alone one who is good enough to win the league MVP. Presumably, those who wouldn't qualify for the office of President would be skipped over like in real life -- at the comic's publication, Elaine Chao was the Secretary of Transportation and would normally be 14th in line, but because she is a naturalized citizen of the US (she was born in Taiwan) she would not qualify for the office if the line came to her.
The title text mentions whoever was closest to the surface of Europa when they were born. Europa is a moon of Jupiter and one of the most likely locations in the Solar System for potential habitability. Nevertheless it's a completely meaningless way of settling a tie. However, depending on the relative positions of Earth and Jupiter when you were born, you could easily have been tens of millions of kilometers closer. Alternatively, Randall could be playing on how Europa sounds like Europe.
Order of succession
|#||Randall's order||Current order by the 1947 Act||Notes|
|1||President||President||Not generally considered part of the line of succession, as incumbents cannot "succeed" to their own post. (This should really be item 0 on the list.)|
|2||Vice president||Vice president||No change|
|3||Secretary of State||Speaker of the House of Representatives||Moved up from 5th position. This is likely a serious suggestion. Existing rules of succession hand Executive power to the leaders of the Legislative branch if the President and Vice-President are both killed or removed from power. This is troubling for a number of reasons. One is that the Executive and Legislative branches are supposed to act as independent checks on one another's power, and so are supposed to be kept separate. Another issue is that the Executive and Legislative branches are frequently controlled by political rivals from different political parties. In such a case, assassins could effectively reverse the results of Presidential elections if they managed to kill the President and Vice-President in a short period of time (which is used as part of the twist ending in White House Down). Additionally, leaders of the House and Senate aren't as deeply connected to the military and diplomatic missions of the country, and so would have a hard time maintaining continuity, particularly if an attack or disaster killed multiple national leaders at once. These problems could all be addressed by keeping the initial Line of Succession confined to the Executive branch of government.|
|4||Secretary of Defense||President pro tempore of the Senate||Moved up from 7th position|
|5||Secretary of Homeland Security||Secretary of State||Moved up from 19th position, possibly to highlight the Attorney General's place in the current order|
|6||Attorney General||Secretary of the Treasury||Moved up from 8th position|
|7||Five people who do not live in Washington DC, nominated at the start of the President's term and confirmed by the Senate||Secretary of Defense||Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States, and is where the White House, the President's residence, is located. Presumably this provision covers the case where much of the government, including positions 1–6 here, are killed by a natural disaster or attack in Washington, D.C.
This suggestion establishes no qualifications for these people, but the fact that they'd need to be confirmed by the Senate suggests that they would be chosen to be competent for the role. It is also unclear if an order is determined among these five or if they take up a joint presidency. This suggestion is taken from the Second Report of the Continuity of Government Commission as a potential mechanism to ensure members of succession are not in Washington DC during a catastrophic attack.
|8||Tom Hanks||Attorney General||Academy Award-winning American actor. This is the first unambiguously unserious suggestion. Tom Hanks is very popular and considered exceptionally likeable by many Americans, but has never served in public office or displayed any particular affinity for politics. He has also never played a president, though he has received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and appeared in a Last Week Tonight with John Oliver skit, where he rallies five (wax) presidents to action. The implication is that Mr. Hanks would be easily accepted as a leader, based solely on his personal charm.|
|9||State Governors, in descending order of state population at last census||Secretary of the Interior||Also taken from Second Report of the Continuity of Government Commission. At the time of publication, the last United States Census was the 2010 Census. As California is the most populous state, its Governor (Jerry Brown at the time of publication) would have been first in line.|
|10||Anyone who won an Oscar for playing a governor||Secretary of Agriculture||Oscars, or Academy Awards, are annual film awards awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the time of publication, the only Oscar awarded for playing a governor was Broderick Crawford's 1949 Best Actor award for the fictional Willie Stark in All the King's Men (a character based on Huey Long). However, Crawford died in 1986, so would be unable to serve as President.
May be a reference to the Political career of Arnold Schwarzenegger: a highly-lauded actor who became governor of California, but did not win an Oscar or play a governor before being elected. (As a naturalized citizen, he is also ineligible for the Presidency.)
|11||Anyone who won a Governor's award for playing someone named Oscar||Secretary of Commerce||The Governors Awards are an annual award ceremony hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to present lifetime achievement awards within the film industry. As this award is a lifetime achievement award, it does not seem possible that an actor could win this award for simply playing someone named Oscar. Notwithstanding the nature of the award, at the time of publication, no recipient of a Governors Award has played a character named Oscar.
Obviously, the joke is that changing the order of the words from the previous proposal produces something that could actually exist.
|12||Kate McKinnon, if available||Secretary of Labor||Comedic actress famous for being a cast member on Saturday Night Live. She is known for her character work and celebrity impressions. She has recently done impersonations of members of the Trump administration including Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. She also played Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign and presumably would have played her when she was President had she won; but since Clinton lost, McKinnon has not actually played a President.|
|13||Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Singles artists #1 through #10 (for groups, whoever is credited first in name, liner notes, etc)||Secretary of Health and Human Services||The Billboard Hot 100 is the music industry standard record chart in the United States for singles, published weekly by Billboard magazine. The weekly data is aggregated into a cumulative Billboard Year-End (based on a "year" that ends the third week of November, in order to meet December publication deadlines). At the time of publication, the most recent such list was the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 2017.
Based on that list, the artists considered for the presidential succession would be: Ed Sheeran, Luis Fonsi, Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar, Alex Pall (of The Chainsmokers), Quavoius Keyate Marshall (of Migos), Sam Hunt, Dan Reynolds (of Imagine Dragons), and Post Malone. There are only nine names instead of ten because The Chainsmokers had two of the top 10 singles in 2017. Of these, only Luis Fonsi (40 years old, born in Puerto Rico) was legally eligible for the office; all the others were too young, and Sheeran is additionally from the United Kingdom.
|14||The top 5 US astronauts in descending order of total spaceflight time||Secretary of Housing and Urban Development||Astronauts are highly respected and rigorously selected, but most have little involvement in politics. According to NASA, the top 5 US astronauts by cumulative space time at the time of publication were: Peggy Whitson, Jeff Williams, Scott Kelly, Mike Fincke, and Mike Foale. However, it is unclear whether Foale would qualify as a natural-born citizen, as he was born in the United Kingdom to a British father and American mother.|
|15||Serena Williams (or, if she lost her most recent match, whoever beat her)||Secretary of Transportation||As of the time of publication, Serena Williams was a top female tennis player. She is arguably the greatest female tennis player of all-time, winning 39 Grand Slam titles, including 23 women's singles titles. At the time of publication Serena Williams did win her most recent match (2018 French Open, third round, on June 2nd), although she withdrew from her next match against Maria Sharapova (which perhaps should count as a loss, especially if she withdrew in order to preserve her place in the line of succession and killed everyone in place ahead of her).
If her most recent defeat was to a non-US player, presumably she would be skipped over in line although this is not explicitly stated (the current succession list skips over anyone who would not normally qualify for not being a natural-born US citizen).
|16||The most recent season NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL MVPs||Secretary of Energy||MVP stands for Most Valuable Player. The 4 listed leagues are the major sports leagues in the United States, the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Hockey League (NHL). We're assuming that Randall meant the regular season MVPs of each league, as each league also awards MVPs for their respective championships (or in the case of the NHL's Conn Smythe Trophy, their entire playoffs).
As of the time of publication, the most recent MVPs for the listed sports were Russell Westbrook (NBA), Tom Brady (NFL), José Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton (MLB has two, one for the American League and one for the National League), and Connor McDavid (NHL). Of these, only Brady would qualify for the list - Altuve and McDavid are Venezuelan and Canadian citizens respectively, and Westbrook (29) and Stanton (28) were too young.
|17||Bill Pullman and his descendants by absolute primogeniture||Secretary of Education||American actor, known for playing President Thomas J. Whitmore in the 1996 film Independence Day.
Absolute primogeniture is a form of succession where the oldest direct descendant regardless of gender receives the title. This is contrasted to Male-preference primogeniture, in which males come before females in the order of the throne, whether the males were born first or not. This may be a reference to the British law Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which changed the order of the throne from male-preference primogeniture to absolute primogeniture. This act allows Princess Charlotte to retain her place in line before Prince Louis.
At the time of publication, Pullman's immediate descendants consisted of three children, with Maesa Pullman being the oldest at age 29. Thus all but Bill Pullman himself were too young for the presidency.
|18||The entire line of succession to the British throne||Secretary of Veterans Affairs||According to the Constitution, only a natural-born citizen of the United States can become President, which means that at least most of the line of succession to the British throne is ineligible. However, it is possible that someone in the line of succession to the British throne either is a dual citizen (especially one who is a U.S. citizen based on place of birth and a British citizen based on having a parent who was a British citizen descended from Sophia of Hanover) or is not British (a person from outside of Britain can become King; for example, some, including George I, were from what is now Germany).
The first 57 names on the list are here, as of the time of publication. British Line of Succession on 6 June 2018 shows the list as it was at the comic's publication. American citizens have, at times been on the list, but no natural-born Americans were on the list when the comic was published. However, after this comic was published Archie Mountbatten-Windsor was born on May 6, 2019; he is currently seventh in the line of succession to the British throne and has US citizenship through his mother Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (as with Mark Foale, though, whether that qualifies as natural-born has not be tested). In theory, the full British succession list includes several thousand people (living descendants of Sophia of Hanover who are not Roman Catholic or otherwise disqualified), and it is possible that one or more such people would also be eligible to be President of the United States beyond Master Archie.
The humor here derives from the fact that the United States was established by declaring independence from the United Kingdom, with rejection of the British monarchy being a basic founding principle, and a core principle of US governance. To appoint the British monarchy to the American presidency would contradict the basic goals of American independence. Alternatively, it may reference the recent wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, although she is not in the order of succession to the British throne. A similar sequence of events was the plotline of the comedy film King Ralph, which saw an American become the British monarch after the death of the royal family.
|19||The current champion of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest||Secretary of Homeland Security||The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual American hot dog competitive eating competition sponsored by Nathan's Famous held on July 4th. As of the time of publication, the most recent men's winner was Joey Chestnut and the women's winner was Miki Sudo. At the time of publication, neither was old enough to assume the office.
The comic does not specify whether the men's or women's winner should take office, creating a tie that would be broken by distance from Europa at birth. Had they both been eligible, Sudo would have won by between 0.125 and 4 Astronomical units.
|20||All other US citizens, chosen by a 29-round single-elimination Jousting tournament||None||Effective for a population up to 536,870,912 individuals (2^29) which would be enough to cover the entire US population (estimated at around 325 million at time of publication), although additional rounds can be added should the population grow further.
This is probably a reference to the Matter of Britain (e.g., The Sword in the Stone), where, after the death of Uther Pendragon, with no known successor to the throne of England for years, it is decided that the winner of a jousting tournament shall be crowned. However, Arthur, the Wart, pulls the Sword from the Stone.
List of specific individuals
Based on the comic's defined criteria for the order of succession, these are the specific individuals in that order, including only people who are otherwise eligible to be the President of United States (35 year old and natural born US citizens who lived in US for last 14 years) as of the date the comic was published.
- Donald Trump (President of the United States)
- Mike Pence (Vice President of the United States)
- Mike Pompeo (United States Secretary of State)
- Jim Mattis (United States Secretary of Defense)
- Kirstjen Nielsen (United States Secretary of Homeland Security)
- Jeff Sessions (United States Attorney General)
- Tom Hanks (Tom Hanks)
As Donald Trump did not appoint anyone to fill position #7 on Randall's line of succession, Hanks immediately follows after Sessions.
- Jerry Brown (Governor of California)
- Greg Abbott (Governor of Texas)
- Andrew Cuomo (Governor of New York)
- Rick Scott (Governor of Florida)
- Bruce Rauner (Governor of Illinois)
- Tom Wolf (Governor of Pennsylvania)
- John Kasich (Governor of Ohio)
- Rick Snyder (Governor of Michigan)
- Nathan Deal (Governor of Georgia)
- Roy Cooper (Governor of North Carolina)
- Phil Murphy (Governor of New Jersey)
- Ralph Northam (Governor of Virginia)
- Jay Inslee (Governor of Washington)
- Charlie Baker (Governor of Massachusetts)
- Eric Holcomb (Governor of Indiana)
- Doug Ducey (Governor of Arizona)
- Bill Haslam (Governor of Tennessee)
- Mike Parson (Governor of Missouri)
- Larry Hogan (Governor of Maryland)
- Scott Walker (Governor of Wisconsin)
- Mark Dayton (Governor of Minnesota)
- John Hickenlooper (Governor of Colorado)
- Kay Ivey (Governor of Alabama)
- Henry McMaster (Governor of South Carolina)
- John Bel Edwards (Governor of Louisiana)
- Matt Bevin (Governor of Kentucky)
- Kate Brown (Governor of Oregon)
Born in Spain to a member of the US Air Force, should be considered a natural-born citizen until proven otherwise.
- Mary Fallin (Governor of Oklahoma)
- Dannel Malloy (Governor of Connecticut)
- Kim Reynolds (Governor of Iowa)
- Phil Bryant (Governor of Mississippi)
- Asa Hutchinson (Governor of Arkansas)
- Jeff Colyer (Governor of Kansas)
- Gary Herbert (Governor of Utah)
- Brian Sandoval (Governor of Nevada)
- Susana Martinez (Governor of New Mexico)
- Jim Justice (Governor of West Virginia)
- Pete Ricketts (Governor of Nebraska)
- Butch Otter (Governor of Idaho)
- David Ige (Governor of Hawaii)
- Paul LePage (Governor of Maine)
- Chris Sununu (Governor of New Hampshire)
- Gina Raimondo (Governor of Rhode Island)
- Steve Bullock (Governor of Montana)
- John Carney (Governor of Delaware)
- Dennis Daugaard (Governor of South Dakota)
- Bill Walker (Governor of Alaska)
- Doug Burgum (Governor of North Dakota)
- Phil Scott (Governor of Vermont)
- Matt Mead (Governor of Wyoming)
- Kate McKinnon (Kate McKinnon)
If she is available. Entries 10 and 11 on Randall's list have no eligible living members.
- Luis Fonsi (Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 2017, #2 artist)
Fonsi is the only eligible individual under the Billboard criterion.
- Peggy Whitson (Astronaut, 665 days in space)
- Jeff Williams (Astronaut, 534 days in space)
- Scott Kelly (Astronaut, 520 days in space)
- Mike Fincke (Astronaut, 382 days in space)
- Mike Foale (Astronaut, 374 days in space)
Foale was born in the UK but his mother is an American, and he holds dual citizenship with both countries. It isn't clear legally whether this situation would qualify him as being a "natural-born" citizen as US courts have never definitively ruled on what the term means, so similar to Governor Kate Brown his name is included in the list until further notice.
- Serena Williams
Serena's place on this list assumes that you do not count her withdrawal against Maria Sharapova as a loss; if that counts as a loss, then subsequent entries move up one position (as Sharapova is ineligible).
- Tom Brady (NFL MVP)
The MVPs of all other listed sports leagues are ineligible for the office due to age or nationality.
- Bill Pullman (Bill Pullman)
None of his children are old enough to become President at this time.
- line of succession to the British throne
- everyone else (Jousting tournament)
Assumes that no eligible member of the British order of succession exists due to citizenship issues. The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating champions were too young to hold the office. Further assumes that the number of eligible US Citizens does not exceed 536,870,912.
- A proposal for a new presidential line of succession
- Current politics aside, most experts agree the existing process is flawed. The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 is probably unconstitutional on several counts, and there are many practical issues with the system as well.
- (For more, see the surprisingly gripping Second Report of the Continuity of Government Commission, June 2009.)
- Proposed line of succession:
- Vice president
- Secretary of State
- Secretary of Defense
- Secretary of Homeland Security
- Attorney General
- Five people who do not live in Washington DC, nominated at the start of the president's term and confirmed by the Senate
- Tom Hanks
- State Governors, in descending order of state population at last census
- Anyone who won an Oscar for playing a governor
- Anyone who won a Governor's award for playing someone named Oscar
- Kate McKinnon, if available
- Billboard year-end Hot 100 singles artists #1 through #10 (for groups, whoever is credited first in name, liner notes, etc)
- The top 5 US astronauts in descending order of total spaceflight time
- Serena Williams (or, if she lost her most recent match, whoever beat her)
- The most recent season NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL MVPs
- Bull Pullman and his descendants by absolute primogeniture
- The entire line of succession to the British throne
- The current champion of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest
- All other US citizens, chosen by a 29-round single-elimination Jousting tournament
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