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Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution
Amendment XX (the Twentieth Amendment) of the United States Constitution, also called The Lame Duck Amendment, establishes some details of presidential succession and of the beginning and ending of the terms of elected federal officials.
The purpose of the amendment was to reduce the amount of time between the election of the President and Congress and the beginning of their terms. Under the Constitution as originally adopted, the terms of the President and the Congress began on March 4th, four months after the elections were held. While this lapse was a practical necessity during the 19th century, at which time a newly elected official might need several months to put his affairs in order and then undertake the arduous journey from his home to the national capital, it had the effect of impeding the functioning of government in the post industrial age.
In addition, under Article One as originally adopted, Congress was required to convene once each year in December. That resulted in a mandatory "lame-duck" session following each election, at which (typically) little was accomplished.
The amendment was ratified on January 23, 1933 but, because of Section 5, it did not affect the dates for the meeting of Congress or the inauguration of the new President in 1933. The amendment states:
The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3rd day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.
If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.
The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.
Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
In a bizarre coincidence, only three weeks after this amendment was ratified, President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt by Giuseppe Zangara. If the attack had killed Roosevelt, the provisions of Section 3 of the amendment would have become operative.
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