Presidential Term Limits

Updated May 29, 2020 | Infoplease Editors

The Question:

Can a president serve more than two terms if they are not consecutive? For example, could former President Barack Obama have run for president again in 2016?

The Answer:

No, a President can not serve a third term whether the terms are consecutive or not. The 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution enacted after Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was elected president for a fourth term, imposes a two-term limit on presidential candidates and was established to formalize a tradition George Washington started by refusing to run for a third term in 1796.

The 22nd Constitutional Amendment states that no person elected president and no person to hold the office of president for more than two years is allowed to be elected more than once more. It makes no difference whether the two terms are consecutive.

This amendment also makes it clear that if Vice President Al Gore had taken over for President Clinton during the first two years of Clinton's first term, then he would have only been allowed to run once more.

What's interesting about Clinton's situation is that the 22nd Amendment only makes two-term presidents ineligible to "be elected to the office of President." But is Clinton allowed to serve as president? For example, what if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for vice president, and his party won? If his candidate couldn't finish his/her term, could Clinton be president again? Or would he be unable to serve as vice president in the first place? For now, this is an unresolved question.

Here is the 22nd Amendment as stated in the United States Constitution, "Section 1: No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Section 2: This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress."

-The Editors

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