Just 34 years old in 1962, Birch Evans Bayh, Jr. had already done well for himself on the political stage. Occupying a seat in Indiana's state legislature, Bayh aimed higher - much higher, challenging three-term incumbent United States Senator Homer Capehart for his seat. Reflecting the youth and vigor that John Kennedy displayed two years earlier, Bayh would upset the nationally prominent Capehart to become one of the youngest Senators in U.S. history.
Seen as an "up and comer," Bayh was given a plum assignment for a first-term Senator, a seat on the powerful Judiciary Committee. And when Estes Kefauver died in 1963, Bayh approached its chairman, Mississippi's James Eastland, about succeeding him as chair of the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments. Figuring it would help groom Bayh as a Senator, Eastland agreed.
Bayh responded by resurrecting a subcommittee that had essentially been left for dead. Rapidly catching up on its work to date on presidential succession and disability, Bayh came to the conclusion the American Bar Association had - that a constitutional amendment was necessary to resolve the Five Key Questions once and for all. Bayh's plan would endeavor to address four key subjects:
- Vice Presidential vacancies, which had occurred 16 times to date thanks to presidential succession, death of a sitting Vice President, or in the case of Vice President Calhoun, resignation;
- Determining a method by which a sitting President could be deemed incapacitated, and how such a process would be conducted;
- Spelling out how a President, once a disability no longer applied, could lawfully resume his duties; and finally
- How, if there was disagreement as to a President's ability to return to service, that conflict would be resolved.
The young Senator's efforts took on new significance in the immediate aftermath of President Kennedy's assassination. Incoming President Lyndon Johnson had suffered a near fatal heart attack in 1955, and the two men next in line to succeed him under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 were a combined 156 years old.
In 1964, Bayh made his first attempt at shepherding through a constitutional amendment on the subject. Recorded as "Senate Joint Resolution 139," it was mostly a hybrid of Kefauver's plan and the Eisenhower-Nixon Agreement, and was viewed as too constrictive by the 88th Congress to merit approval. But Bayh was undeterred, and thanks to a little push from the White House, he and the 89th Congress would finally put some concrete answers in place to the Five Key Questions of presidential succession and disability.