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The 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution Explained

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.

20th Amendment to the Constitution


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