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Saturday, May 09, 2020

How many FLOTUSes?

We were watching the documentary on Michelle Obama. In one segment, she is introduced before a speech as the 44th First Lady. But there have been more FLOTUSes than POTUSes. I count 52*--two women served in the role for Jackson, three for Tyler, two for Cleveland's first term, two for Benjamin Harrison, and three for Wilson. So that would make Obama the 51st FLOTUS and Melania Trump the 52d FLOTUS.

[*] William Henry Harrison's wife was too sick to travel from Ohio to Washington. Harrison's daughter-in-law Jane Irwin Harrison performed the role for the month.

Do we designate and recognize other office holders as we do POTUS? Is it too confusing to have numbers for FLOTUS or VPOTUS (there have 48, not more because there was no mechanism for filling the frequent vacancies pre-1967) that depart from the POTUS number with which everyone is familiar?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 9, 2020 at 04:10 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


This assumes that the President's spouse holds an office, which she* does not. The position of "First Lady" is not created by the Constitution or, as required by the Appointments Clause, a statute. I realize that recent First Ladies have made publicly clearly what was privately known, which is that they wield enormous influence on the President's decision-making and feel that they should be accorded the trappings of office, up to, and including, appointment of their own chief of staff and being introduced at formal events as "Mrs. [Birth Name] [Married Surname]."** Whatever you think of a specific first lady, there is a fine line between spousal support and usurping the roles of individuals who have taken an oath of office and are (at least theoretically) accountable to the legislature and the judiciary for their actions. This is the larger constitutional question, along with other private advisers like Mr. Guiliani over whom Congress has no control or oversight. Just as we need to rein in the Imperial Presidency, it's also likely high time that we ended the monarchical First Ladyship.

*Historically she, that is.
**Which, as everyone knows, is not correct, it being either "Mrs. [Married Surname]" (the traditional form) or, if accept that the President's spouse is a professional, "Ms. [Birth Name] [Married Surname]" See https://www.uexpress.com/miss-manners/2011/3/13/how-to-address-the-first-lady

Posted by: Jas. Madison | May 11, 2020 1:54:54 PM

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