Can You Run for President If You Are in Prison?

You can run for president if you are in prison, but it is not that simple. Read more about it all.

Can You Run for President If You Are in Prison?
Can You Run for President If You Are in Prison?

If you are a U.S. citizen who is at least 35 years old, born in the United States, and has lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years, you may be able to run for president. But what if you're also convicted? Can you still run for president if you are in prison?

You certainly can. Nothing in the Constitution forbids a jail prisoner from running for president. In truth, two convicted individuals were candidates for president in the United States and ran for the house from prison.

Eugene V. Debs

Between 1900 and 1920, Eugene V. Debs ran for president five times as a socialist leader and Labouré campaigner. He was convicted of breaking the Espionage Act and sentenced to ten years in federal prison for making an anti-war speech in 1918.

In 1920, he ran for president from his cell in Atlanta and got over a million votes, or around 3% of the popular votes. In 1921, President Warren G. Harding pardoned him.

Lyndon LaRouche

Between 1976 and 2004, Lyndon LaRouche campaigned for president eight times as a political activist and conspiracy theorist. He was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in 1988 after being convicted of mail fraud and tax evasion.

In 1992, he ran for president from his cell in Rochester, receiving around 26,000 votes, or less than 0.1 percent of the popular vote. In 1994, just like Eugene V. Debs, he was also granted parole.

Read Why Is Joe Exotic In Prison?

What If You Win?

Just because you can run for president from prison does not guarantee you will be able to serve as president if you win. This is the point at which things get difficult and unpredictable.

The Constitution does not allow a president-elect to be imprisoned or convicted of a felony. In such a case, several legal and practical concerns might arise.

President Impairment

First, there is the question of whether the president-elect's detention constitutes an "impairment" that precludes him or her from discharging the duties of the office.

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment provides two options for dealing with a president who is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office: either the president transfers power voluntarily to the vice president, or the vice president and a majority of the cabinet declare that the president is unable to function, and Congress confirms it with a two-thirds vote of both houses.

Neither of these procedures, however, applies to a president-elect who has not yet taken office. The amendment solely affects "the President," not "the President-elect." As a result, it remains unclear who can decide whether the president-elect is affected by his or her imprisonment and who can function as president in his or her stead. As a result, the issue remains, "Can You Run for President If You Are In Prison?"

Read Why Was Christopher Scarver In Prison?


The second question is whether the president-elect can pardon himself or herself for any federal offenses committed or convicted of. Except during times of impeachment, the president has the authority under the Constitution to grant pardons for offenses against the United States.

It does not, however, state whether the president may pardon himself or herself. This is a contentious and unsolved subject that has never been put to the test in court.

Self-pardon, according to some legal experts, would be unlawful since it would go against the rule that no one is allowed to be a judge in their case after you run for president while in prison. Others say that a self-pardon would be legal since there is no specific restriction in the Constitution, and it would benefit the public by avoiding a constitutional crisis.

If a prisoner is elected president and pardons himself or herself for any federal charges, he or she may have the authority to order his or her release from federal prison. This, however, would not impact any state crimes he or she may have committed or been convicted of. The president can only pardon federal offenses.

People Acceptance

"Can You Run for President If You're in Prison?" has been resolved. The question now is whether the people would accept a jail prisoner as president. Even if there were no legal restrictions to running for office, there might be political and social ones.

A jail inmate elected president would very certainly encounter fierce pushback and protest from Congress, the courts, the media, and the general public. He or she would struggle to assemble a government, appoint judges, enact laws, carry out foreign policy, command the military, and maintain legitimacy and credibility.

Overall, you can run for president if you are in prison, but it is highly improbable that he or she would win or be able to serve as president. The Constitution does not explicitly forbid it, but it also does not provide clear guidance on handling such a situation. Many legal and practical challenges and uncertainties would arise if a prison inmate were elected president. It would be a constitutional crisis unlike any other in U.S. history.

Final Words

To summarise, while running for president while jailed is technically possible, it is improbable that the candidate would succeed or be permitted to hold the position. The Constitution does not specifically ban it, but it also does not provide clear rules for dealing with such a circumstance.

If a felon were elected president, several legal and practical obstacles and concerns would exist. It would be unlike any other constitutional crisis in the history of the United States.
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