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Four hours remain on the clock before “24” once again ends its really long, real-time day – hardly enough time to start impeachment proceedings against President Palmer.
Fans who caught the final minutes of last week’s program watched the clock implode just as the vice president and the President’s cabinet were about to start a behind-closed-doors meeting to remove the President, played by Dennis Haysbert, from office.
But can they actually do that? TV can take a lot of liberties with the truth (for the sake of a good story, of course).
But in this case, it turns out they can.
Robert Cochran – the program’s co-creator and one of its executive producers who also happens to be an attorney with a law degree from Stanford – remembers the brainstorming session.
“As soon as somebody mentioned the 25th Amendment, we knew that was a good way to go because there’s no real precedent for it and it’s very vaguely drafted,” he said. Cochran said once he got a copy of the amendment and saw it had never been legally tested he realized, “Hey, we’re in business – we have a lot of leeway there legitimately.”
What’s likely to ensue in tonight’s episode?
Given how the 25th Amendment operates, any number of things need to occur, according to Michael Herz, a professor at New York’s Cardozo School of Law, who agrees that because this legal mechanism has never been tested and no authoritative statement has been made with respect to its meaning, “it’s very much up for grabs.”
Herz says that, under this amendment, a majority of the cabinet members plus the vice president must write a letter to Congress declaring the president is no longer capable of discharging his duties, usually because he is either sick, crazy or missing. Once that letter is signed, sealed and delivered, the vice president immediately becomes acting president.
“At that point, the president can write his own letter that says, ‘Wait a minute, I’m suffering no inability at all – I’m perfectly capable of doing my job,’ ” Herz said.
“And if the president writes that letter, then he becomes President again – unless the majority of the cabinet and the vice president stick to their guns. At that point Congress has 21 days to decide.”
Time consuming overall, yes, but squeezing that initial letter into an hour-long drama is highly doable.
Cochran admits he’s particularly sensitive to how the law is depicted on the small screen.
“Usually, it just drives you crazy if you’re an attorney watching law shows on TV,” he says, especially when programs depict “cases that would take years in real life, all taking place within the course of a week or so.
“Now,” the producer admits, “I feel like anybody else whose interests have shifted from one side of the fence to the other.”
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