Front Page Titles (by Subject) J.: AMENDMENT XX (1933) - Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
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J.: AMENDMENT XX (1933) - James McClellan, Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government 
Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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AMENDMENT XX (1933)
section 1. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
section 5. Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
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.
This is the so-called Lame Duck Amendment. It supersedes Article I, Section 4, Clause 2 of the Constitution, which called for Congress to begin each session on the first Monday in December. Members of Congress now convene on January 3. The Amendment also changes the date when the terms of President and Vice President shall begin—from March 4 to January 20.
The Constitution does not specify a date when the terms of Senators and Representatives shall begin. It does provide, however, that one-third of the Senate and all of the Representatives shall be elected every two years. Nor does the Constitution indicate when the terms of the President and Vice President shall commence. The First Congress resolved the issue in 1789 by passing a statute providing that the terms of President and Vice President and of Senators and Representatives shall begin on March 4.
What this meant, however, was that Congress had a short session every other year. In the “off year,” when there were no elections, Congress convened on the first Monday of December and remained in session throughout much of the next year. But in the following election year, Congress was required to hold a short session because of the November elections. After convening in December, Congress had to end the session in March, when the terms expired for those Senators and Representatives defeated in the previous November elections.
These short sessions came to be known as “lame duck” sessions because they allowed members of Congress who had been defeated in the November elections (“lame ducks”) to remain in office until March of the following year, when their terms expired. It also meant that individuals elected in November had to wait for five months before taking office, and could not really begin their work until the following December—thirteen months after their election. Not the least of the difficulties solved by the Twentieth Amendment was the democratic problem of having defeated members of Congress, accountable to no one, representing their constituents for almost half a year.
An obvious question is why the Amendment was necessary since the original date of March 4 was set by statute. The answer is that the changes to January 3 and January 20 shortened the terms of those in office, and these changes would therefore have been unconstitutional if accomplished through the legislative rather than the amendment process.
Congress has fulfilled its obligations under Section 3 of the Twentieth Amendment by enacting legislation from time to time dealing with presidential succession. The Presidential Succession Act of 1947, for example, deals with the problem that would arise if both the President and Vice President died or were otherwise unable to qualify for office on or before January 20.