20th Amendment to the US Constitution Summary

20th Amendment

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

The twentieth amendment to the Constitution was proposed to the legislatures of the several states by the Seventy-Second Congress, on the 2d day of March, 1932, and was declared, in a proclamation by the Secretary of State, dated on the 6th day of February, 1933, to have been ratified by the legislatures of 36 of the 48 States. The dates of ratification were: Virginia, March 4, 1932; New York, March 11, 1932; Mississippi, March 16, 1932; Arkansas, March 17, 1932; Kentucky, March 17, 1932; New Jersey, March 21, 1932; South Carolina, March 25, 1932; Michigan, March 31, 1932; Maine, April 1, 1932; Rhode Island, April 14, 1932; Illinois, April 21, 1932; Louisiana, June 22, 1932; West Virginia, July 30, 1932; Pennsylvania, August 11, 1932; Indiana, August 15, 1932; Texas, September 7, 1932; Alabama, September 13, 1932; California, January 4, 1933; North Carolina, January 5, 1933; North Dakota, January 9, 1933; Minnesota, January 12, 1933; Arizona, January 13, 1933; Montana, January 13, 1933; Nebraska, January 13, 1933; Oklahoma, January 13, 1933; Kansas, January 16, 1933; Oregon, January 16, 1933; Delaware, January 19, 1933; Washington, January 19, 1933; Wyoming, January 19, 1933; Iowa, January 20, 1933; South Dakota, January 20, 1933; Tennessee, January 20, 1933; Idaho, January 21, 1933; New Mexico, January 21, 1933; Georgia, January 23, 1933; Missouri, January 23, 1933; Ohio, January 23, 1933; Utah, January 23, 1933.

Ratification was completed on January 23, 1933.

The amendment was subsequently ratified by Massachusetts on January 24, 1933; Wisconsin, January 24, 1933; Colorado, January 24, 1933; Nevada, January 26, 1933; Connecticut, January 27, 1933; New Hampshire, January 31, 1933; Vermont, February 2, 1933; Maryland, March 24, 1933; Florida, April 26, 1933.

The United States Constitution is the oldest constitution still in active use, written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. Widely considered to be one of the most successful constitutions ever written, the US Constitution is divided into 7 different sections known as articles and also contains 27 amendments. The 20th Amendment shortened the timeframe between a president and vice president being elected and taking office and altered the date that Congress was required to meet, detailing different aspects surrounding these issues in 6 different sections.

20th Amendment – Overview

In the original US Constitution, the president, vice president, and Congress did not start their new term until March 4, about 4 months after election day. This resulted in a 4-month period where there was a significant void of leadership in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. While the previous president, vice president, and Congress were theoretically still in charge, they would be severely handicapped to address a potential crisis that arose because they didn’t have much time to address problems before their respective terms ran out. Congress faced an additional problem in the original US Constitution, as they were directed to meet at least once a year starting in December. This resulted in a mandated “lame duck” session of Congress following a November election where the old Congress was required to meet but couldn’t adequately address the needs of the country because their term was about to expire. The 20th Amendment sought to alleviate these problems by altering the term timeframes of the executive and legislative branches.

Section 1

Section 1 moved the date for a new president and vice president taking office from March 4 to January 20, and the new Congress from March 4 to January 3, significantly decreasing the length of handicapped leadership in the executive and legislative branches.

Section 2

Section 2 stipulated that Congress must meet once a year, as stated in the original US Constitution, but changes the time of the first meeting from December to January 3, eliminated the constitutionally mandated “lame duck” congressional session.

Section 3

Section 3 stated that if the president-elect dies before taking office on January 20, the vice president then becomes president. Also, if a president is not chosen before the January 20 deadline or if the president-elect is deemed unfit to serve as president, the vice president will become acting president until a new president can be selected. If both a president-elect and vice president-elect are deemed unfit to serve their terms, Congress is given the authority to select a new acting president until a president and/or vice president can be selected.

Section 4

Section 4 authorized Congress the power to enact procedures for selecting the president and vice president in case of the death of the president or vice president or when Congress is given the authority to select these offices if no candidate gets a majority of electoral votes. In these situations, the House of Representatives is responsible for choosing a president and the Senate is responsible for choosing a vice president.

Section 5

Section 5 stated that sections 1 and 2 of the 20th Amendment will take effect on October 15 following the amendment’s ratification.

Section 6

Section 6 specified that the 20th Amendment will only become law if it is ratified by 3-4’s of state legislatures within 7 years of the amendment’s submission.


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