John Feerick: The 25th Amendment With the Man Who Lived Through It All


Dean Matthew Diller wrote a perspective piece in New York Law Journal about Professor John Feerick’s contributions to the constitutional amendment governing presidential succession.

In October 1963, a 27-year-old Feerick was working as an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom when he published a Fordham Law Review article titled “The Problem of Presidential Inability—Will Congress Ever Solve It?” At the time, the topic of presidential succession was not at the top of everyone’s mind; after all, the country had elected three years earlier a young and healthy John F. Kennedy. Nevertheless, Feerick, just two years out of Fordham Law School, argued that, Kennedy’s age notwithstanding, the issue demanded attention. With his characteristic determination, Feerick distributed his article to everyone he felt might have an interest, including the president himself, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, congressmen and retired government officials.

The article advocated for the adoption of a constitutional amendment to resolve the ambiguities and gaps in the Constitution’s original succession provision—weaknesses that had been exposed in past cases where presidents were unable to fulfill their duties. To further bolster his amendment case, Feerick wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times that insisted on the importance of the topic.

The newspaper published Feerick’s letter on Nov. 17, 1963. Five days later, JFK was killed.

Kennedy’s assassination seared the issue of presidential succession into the public consciousness.

After Feerick assisted in the 25th Amendment’s drafting, the ABA tapped him to chair its Young Lawyers Committee, whose members helped persuade key federal and state lawmakers that they needed to act swiftly on lingering presidential succession questions.

On July 6, 1965, Congress gave final approval to the proposed 25th Amendment; less than two years later, on Feb. 10, 1967, the amendment was ratified and became part of the Constitution. When President Lyndon Johnson held a ceremony at the White House to formally proclaim its adoption, Feerick was present among the amendment’s architects.

More recently, Feerick has engaged a new generation of legal professionals to continue the work that he began more than a half century ago. In 2010, he launched a presidential succession clinic at Fordham Law so that students could get involved and put their own stamp on the issue.

Last year, Feerick worked with The Maloney Library at Fordham Law and adjunct professor John Rogan to create an online 25th Amendment archive for use by scholars, journalists and citizens. The archive offers an interactive timeline of the history and events that prompted Congress to create the amendment; some of its materials are unavailable elsewhere. This past August, Feerick was awarded the ABA Medal, the highest honor given by the association; the medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service to the cause of American jurisprudence, to the law, and to the legal profession.

It is uncommon for one individual and one law school to be so closely tied to a constitutional amendment. Fordham Law has John Feerick to thank for the connection. And thanks to him, the nation can breathe a bit easier.

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