Acting (law)

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In law, when someone is said to be acting in a position it can mean one of three things.

  • The position has not yet been formally created.
  • The person is only occupying the position temporarily, to ensure continuity.
  • The person does not have a mandate.

The term "acting" is often used in one of these senses to refer to a temporary occupant of an office in government. An "acting" official holds office to ensure both the stability and continuity of his department will continue despite the absence of a formal leader.

For example, if the U.S. Secretary of Defense died suddenly in office, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense would take over. However, he would only be "acting" in the position, as he/she will not formally hold the office unless he/she is nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate, as required by the Constitution.

Acting officials typically play a caretaker role while acting, as it is usually considered questionable for someone to exercise full authority in a very activist way without having been specifically hired or elected to the office.

Acting for has the same basic meaning as "acting", except it indicates that the original occupant of the position still formally holds power.

For example, in 2006 when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a severe stroke, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assumed power on the basis that he was "acting for" the incapacitated Sharon. Sharon was still formally the nation's leader, as he had not died or resigned, but Olmert was executing the powers of the office.

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