[Constitution of the United States of America:  Analysis, and Interpretation - 1992 Edition ]
[Amendments to the Constitution]
[Twentieth Amendment - Terms of President, Vice President, Members of Congress: Presidential Vacancy]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov]



[[Page 1973]]


 
                           TWENTIETH AMENDMENT
                               __________

                           COMMENCEMENT OF THE
 
  TERMS OF THE PRESIDENT, VICE PRESIDENT, AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS, ETC.


  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

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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.
      Purpose of the Amendment 

        The Senate Committee on the Judiciary in its report suggested 
several reasons for the proposed Twentieth Amendment. It said in part:

        ``[W]hen our Constitution was adopted there was some reason for 
such a long intervention of time between the election and the actual 
commencement of work by the new Congress. . . . Under present conditions 
[of communication and transportation] the result of elections is known 
all over the country within a few hours after the polls close, and the 
Capital City is within a few days' travel of the remotest portions of 
the country. . . .

        ``Another effect of the amendment would be to abolish the so-
called short session of Congress. . . . Every other year, under our 
Constitution, the terms of Members of the House and one-third of the 
Members of the Senate expire on the 4th day of March. . . . Experience 
has shown that this brings about a very undesirable legislative 
condition. It is a physical impossibility during such a short session 
for Congress to give attention to much general legislation for the 
reason that it requires practically all of the time to dispose of the 
regular appropriation bills. . . . The result is a congested condition 
that brings about either no legislation or illy considered legislation. 
. . .

        ``If it should happen that in the general election in November 
in presidential years no candidate for President had received a majority 
of all the electoral votes, the election of a President would then be 
thrown into the House of Representatives and the memberships of the 
House of Representatives called upon to elect a President would be the 
old Congress and not the new one just elected

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by the people. It might easily happen that the Members of the House of 
Representative, upon whom devolved the solemn duty of electing a Chief 
Magistrate for 4 years, had themselves been repudiated at the election 
that had just occurred, and the country would be confronted with the 
fact that a repudiated House, defeated by the people themselves at the 
general election, would still have the power to elect a President who 
would be in control of the country for the next 4 years. It is quite 
apparent that such a power ought not to exist, and that the people 
having expressed themselves at the ballot box should through the 
Representatives then selected, be able to select the President for the 
ensuing term. . . .

        ``The question is sometimes asked, Why is an amendment to the 
Constitution necessary to bring about this desirable change? The 
Constitution [before this amendment] does not provide the date when the 
terms of Senators and Representatives shall begin. It does fix the term 
of Senators at 6 years and of Members of the House of Representatives at 
2 years. The commencement of the terms of the first President and Vice 
President and of Senators and Representatives composing the First 
Congress was fixed by an act of [the Continental] Congress adopted 
September 13, 1788, and that act provided `that the first Wednesday in 
March next to be the time for commencing proceedings under the 
Constitution.' It happened that the first Wednesday in March was the 4th 
day of March, and hence the terms of the President and Vice President 
and Members of Congress began on the 4th day of March. Since the 
Constitution provides that the term of Senators shall be 6 years and the 
term of Members of the House of Representatives 2 years, it follows that 
this change cannot be made without changing the terms of office of 
Senators and Representatives, which would in effect be a change of the 
Constitution. By another act (the act of March 1, 1792) Congress 
provided that the terms of President and Vice President should commence 
on the 4th day of March after their election. It seems clear, therefore, 
that an amendment to the Constitution is necessary to give relief from 
existing conditions.''\1\

        \1\S. Rep. No. 26, 72d Cong., 1st Sess., 2, 4, 5, 6 (1932).
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        As thus stated, the exact term of the President and Vice 
President was fixed by the Constitution, Art. II, Sec. 1, cl. 1, at 4 
years, and became actually effective, by resolution of the Continental 
Congress, on the 4th of March 1789. Since this amendment was declared 
adopted on February 6, 1933, Sec. 1 in effect shortened, by the interval 
between January 20 and March 4, 1937, the terms of the President and 
Vice President elected in 1932.

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        Similarly, it shortened, by the intervals between January 3 and 
March 4, the terms of Senators elected for terms ending March 4, 1935, 
1937, and 1939; and thus temporarily modified the Seventeenth Amendment, 
fixing the terms of Senators at 6 years. It also shortened the terms of 
Representatives elected to the Seventy-third Congress, by the interval 
between January 3 and March 4, 1935, and temporarily modified Article I, 
Sec. 2, clause 1, fixing the terms of Representatives at 2 years.

        Section 1 further modifies the Twelfth Amendment in its 
reference to March 4 as the date by which the House must exercise its 
choice of a President.

        Section 2 supersedes clause 2 of Sec. 4 of Article I. The 
setting of an exact hour for meeting constitutes a recognition of the 
long practice of Congress, which in 1867 was for the first time enacted 
into permanent law,\2\ only to be repealed in 1871.\3\

        \2\Ch. 10, 14 Stat. 378.
        \3\Ch. 21, Sec. 30, 17 Stat. 12. See 1 A. Hinds' Precedents of 
the House of Representatives Sec. 11 (1907).
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        When the 3d of January fell on Sunday (in 1937), Congress did by 
law appoint a different day for its assemblage.\4\

        \4\Ch. 713, 49 Stat. 1826.
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        Pursuant to the authority conferred upon it by Sec. 3 of this 
amendment, Congress shaped the Presidential Succession Act of 1948 \5\ 
to meet the situation which would arise from the failure of both 
President elect and Vice President elect to qualify on or before the 
time fixed for the beginning of the new Presidential term.

        \5\Ch. 644, 62 Stat. 672, as amended, 3 U.S.C. Sec. 19. See also 
the Twenty-fifth Amendment, infra, pp. 1991-93.