[Image: “Three branches of government” by Nick Anderson, via]
Article I of the Constitution, which describes the authority of the legislative branch, says that â€œthe vice president of the United States shall be president of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.â€ Aside from the job of replacing a president who dies or is unable to serve, the only vice presidential duties that are spelled out in the Constitution are legislative in character.
But if the vice president is a legislative official, then the exercise of executive power by the vice president raises important constitutional questions related to the separation of powers. The Supreme Court has held on more than one occasion that legislative officials cannot exercise executive power. The Court would likely dub this a â€œpolitical questionâ€ that is beyond its purview, but Congress is empowered to remedy this sort of thing by legislation.
And Congress should do just that: pass a law to prohibit the vice president from exercising executive power. Extensive vice presidential involvement in the executive branch â€” the role enjoyed by Dick Cheney and Al Gore â€” is not only unconstitutional, but also a bad idea.
The most important function of a vice president is to serve as a spare president. Using the spare president in the ordinary course of business is as unwise as driving on oneâ€™s spare tire. Spares should be kept pristine, for when they are really needed.