The Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution is the one that changed the inauguration dates for the President, Vice-President, and members of Congress. Previously, the President, Vice-President, and members of Congress were inaugurated on March 4. This amendment made the new inauguration date for members of Congress January 3, and the inauguration date for President and Vice-President January 20. This amendment was adopted and became part of the US Constitution on January 23, 1933.
What Does it Say?
“Section 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.
Section 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.
Section 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.
Section 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.
Section 5. Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
Section 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.”
What Does it Mean?
The purpose of this amendment was to reduce the “lame duck” period a US President had to serve (which is the remainder of their term after an election). A “lame duck President, especially one who is leaving the office, is not usually able to get much done, since Congress is waiting to pass new legislation for the new President to take office. Sometimes, it’s the opposite, when a President is leaving and the Congress is a majority of the President’s party, they might try to push through legislation in the lame duck period that would never get passed otherwise. This amendment made these scenarios less likely.
The amendment also inaugurates members of Congress BEFORE the new President and Vice-President. This is so that the incoming Congress, and not the outgoing one, would be the one to have a contingent election if the Electoral College ever deadlocked on selecting a President and Vice-President.