Understanding the Constitution – 20th Amendment

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Consitution of the United States and Feather QuillPassed by Congress: March 2, 1932

Ratified: Jan 23, 1933

20th Amendment

Section 1: The terms of the President and the 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.

Prior to this Amendment elections winners would be sworn into office in March, 5 months after their election.  The election of 1932 was held in the midst of the Great Depression.  After Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover, Hoover did nothing to deal with the crisis for the 5 months from election day to Inauguration day.  The states ratified the 20th Amendment before Roosevelt took office in March of 1933 to lessen the time between election day and inauguration day to lessen the time a “Lame Duck” President is in office.

Section 2: The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

This section moves up the beginning of each session of Congress to 3d of  January.

Section 3: 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 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.

This section provides for what shall happen if the President elect dies before taking office or if no one has been elected president by inauguration day.  Neither of these events have ever happened, neither before nor after the ratification of the 20th Amendment.

Section 4: 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.

If ever the need arrises for the House of Representatives to choose the President and for the Senate to choose a Vice President the Congress can determine how to proceed if one of the candidates should die before the Congress chooses a President or Vice President.

Section 5: Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.

Pretty self explanatory.

Section 6: 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.

Again, pretty self explanatory.

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  • MarkinTex

    Can you talk more on Section 3, about “failing to qualify?” It seems straight-forward that if the president-elect dies before inauguration, the vp-elect becomes and stays president. But it seems if the president-elect “fails to qualify” before the inauguration, the VP-elect is only acting president until a new president can be qualified. How is a new president qualified, and by whom?