The Twentieth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution addresses the terms of elected Federal officials, including the President, Vice-President, and members of Congress. Specifically, it defines the actual dates on which those terms begin and end. The 20th Amendment also provides for guidelines to be followed in the scenario that there is no President-elect. The Twentieth Amendment was ratified into the U.S. Constitution on January 23, 1933.
Of the Amendments to the Constitution, it is of particular interest that the terms of elected Federal officials remained unchanged or unrevised until 1933 when the Twentieth Amendment was ratified. It provides for important provisions that, at first glance, seem to have been crucial enough to be addressed in earlier times.
The Twentieth Amendment is divided into six sections, with the first four containing the substance of the proposed changes in legislature. The first section details that the terms of the President and Vice President are to end at noon on January 20th, and at noon on January 3rd for Senators and Representatives. The terms for the President and Vice President are a length of four years, while members of Congress retain their positions for a period of six years.
The Second Section mandates that Congress is to meet at least once a year, with the one meeting being on the noon on the 3rd of January, which would be the first meeting with new Congress members in the event of the start of a new term.
The situation arising from no President-elect is addressed in Section Three of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution. If the President-elect dies before the term begins on the specified date, the Vice President-elect is to become President. This situation also applies if the President-elect has been chosen by the beginning of the term or if the President fails to qualify. In the extenuating circumstance that both the President and Vice President-elect fail to qualify, Congress is allowed by law to declare who is to become President until a President or Vice President qualifies for office. In the case that a person from the House of Representatives dies who has the responsibility to choose a President, and similarly for the person in the Senate choosing a Vice President, then Congress is allowed by law to undertake such responsibilities.
Finally, Sections Five and Six provide for a date on which the first two sections are to be enacted, 15th of October after the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment. The Amendment itself would have a period of seven years in which must be ratified; otherwise, it would be discarded.
The Amendments to the Constitution regarding the terms of elected Federal officials changed the date on which a term was to begin, which was originally March 4th, four months after the actual elections were held. The implemented date was a consideration for the new officials in providing for ample time to move to the nation’s capital. However, in modern times, this lapse in time would prove to be a hindrance rather than a positive consideration. Furthermore, Congressmen who were elected prior to the Twentieth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would not actually enter the office until over a year after their election. The lapse in time would produce what is referred to as “lame duck” sessions held by Congress, which were unproductive and obsolete.
Particularly important instances that marked the need for the Twentieth Amendment were the secession of the Southern states and the Great Depression, in which the newly elected officials would have to wait four months before they could address these serious concerns.