The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Section 1 of the Twentieth Amendment of the Constitution of United States: “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January [following their November elections]….” This provision gave the date and time for the change of power as well as gave the President and Vice President the authority to assume their respective offices.
W. Cleon Skousen explained, “Thus, the Twentieth Amendment not only eliminated the `lame duck’ sessions of Congress, and but it also shortened the interval between the convening of Congress and the inauguration of the President and Vice President from three months (first Monday in December to March 4) to less than three weeks (January 3 to January 20).
“One reason for the long intervening period originally provided for was the assumption that in the event that none of the candidates had a majority of electoral votes, it might take the members of the House a considerable amount of time to decide which of the candidates would be President. If the same problem existed for the Vice President, the Senate would need sufficient time to evaluate the candidates and make its selection for that off.
“However, the development of a strong two-party system in the United States has consistently provided a majority for the winning candidates, making January 3 to January 20 a sufficient interval for Congress to assemble, organize, and count the electoral votes before the incoming President and Vice President take office.” (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, 751.)
John Copeland Nagle of The Heritage Foundation explained further, “The Twentieth Amendment appears simply to embody minor structural changes to the Constitution. That the amendment was ratified by the states more quickly than any other constitutional amendment before or since supports this impression of an uncontroversial technical revision. So does the absence of litigation surrounding the meaning of the amendment. But the Twentieth Amendment became part of the Constitution only after decades of congressional debate, and its meaning was debated as recently as the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton by the United States House of Representatives in December 1998….” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 419.)