This Day in Constitutional History: The 20th Amendment clips lame ducks’ wings

On February 6th, 1933, the 20th Amendment to the US Constituion was ratified, a “rather technical amendment clipping the wings of electoral lame ducks,” as described by Akhil Amar in America’s Constitution: A Biography.

“Proposed in March 1932 and ratified in early 1933, the Twentieth aimed to reduce the power of lame-duck politicians—public servants who had been repudiated by the voters at the polls but who had yet to be replaced by their spring-chicken successors. Tackling the problem of a lame-duck president, Section 1 moved up Inauguration Day from the old March 4 to a new date, January 20. Current events gave the issue special poignancy. When Congress proposed the amendment, everyone know that President Herbert Hoover was unlikely to be reelected in November. Yet everyone also understood that the soon-t-be-lame –duck president would remain in power for four months after being repudiated, with no mandate (and perhaps little inclination) to do anything, despite the widespread view that immediate action was needed to pull the country out of its Depression.

Although none of this hastened FDR’s inauguration—under a time-delay rule, a la Prohibition, the new political calendar would not become operative until the following electoral cycle—the amendment’s prompt ratification did mean that future generations would not have to wait as Depression-era Americans had been made to.”

Is the new shorter interval still too long? See 2009 commentary from CAC’s Judith Schaeffer.

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