Posted On: Wednesday - September 9th 2020 11:39AM MST
In Topics:   US Feral Government  Morning Constitutional
Continued from Amendment XI, Amendment XII, Amendment XIII, Amendment XIV, Amendment XV, Part 1 on Amendment XVI, Part 2 on Amendment XVI , Part 3 on Amendment XVI, Amendment XVII, Amendment XVIII, Part 1 on Amendment XIX, Part 2 on Amendment XIX, and Part 3 on Amendment XIX.)
It's been near 2 months since our last Morning Constitutional, so we are getting backed up here at Peak Stupidity. I will warn you right now that this post will be pretty boring. (We're gonna get through this, dammit!) Boring, however, is good when it comes to Constitutional Amendments, from our survey so far.
Amendment XX is completely "housekeeping", or administrative details, of Presidential and Congressional term scheduling and odd situations resulting from the deaths of the President-elect or candidate in process. Here is the full text:
Section 1There is not anything to be "interpreted" here, which is always a good thing with Laws of the Land, or any laws. Still, the Interpretation page of our usual source on matters Constitutional, The Constitution Center has some background about the impetus for Amendment XX. (The direct text I pasted in came from this page of the site.)
The terms of the President and the 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
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.
We're going to start at the end and work backwards here this time, by 2's anyway. Sections 5 and 6 were written simply to set the proposed Amendment's effectiveness date and ratification time limit.
Section 3 is a fix for a problem that hasn't occurred so far, even before the ratification in 1935. Article II, Section 1 (Executive Branch) doesn't get into that much detail to cover this, so this was some foresight by the writers. The debate on Amendment XX was probably as good a time as any to put this in. Section 4 deals with a candidate dying during the voting process. Who cares? We can always find a more evil lesser of two evils. That's never been a problem, but whatever.
Sections 1 and 2, by changing and setting new dates for Congressional sessions had the effect of greatly shortening the length of lame-duck periods for outgoing Congressmnen (especially proportional to total time in office). Per the interpretive discussion, the old way was:
Read together, the Clause stating that congressional sessions shall start in December and the resolution declaring that terms for the first President and members of Congress would begin in March created an anomaly. Each new Congress would not meet for its first regular session until thirteen months after its election and would convene for its second regular session a scant three months prior to the end of its term. Further, because the terms of a new President and new Congress began on the same day, unresolved presidential elections would be decided by the old Congress rather than the new one. Because the two provisions creating the situation were embedded in the Constitution—one directly and one indirectly—the schedule could only be changed by a constitutional amendment.The "lame duck" problem is having Congressmen/Senators no longer beholden to their constituents other than by honor (hahahaa, but it WAS a thing in the old days), having lost an election but in office and able to vote anyway for a period. This was noted to be a problem very early on in this Republic. In the 1st 3 decades, 18 bills were introduced to change the schedule, written as proposed Constitutional Amendments. Nothing got passed for almost a century and a half because, well, that lame duck session was just great if you were that lame duck:
As odd as the old congressional schedule’s delayed start and lame-duck session might look to modern commentators, it served the interests of lame-duck lawmakers. As critics of the schedule observed, once a legislator lost or did not stand for re-election, a lame-duck session gave that legislator an opportunity to legislate without being responsible to voters. Outgoing Senators and Representatives could offer votes in return for executive-branch appointments, reformers charged. This was especially true for members of the House of Representatives, whose terms were shorter and turnover greater than for Senators. The House therefore became the center of opposition to constitutional amendments designed to eliminate the lame-duck session.There is nothing new under the sun, people.
There's more background behind Amendment XX being finally offered up, that is, the important sections that greatly reduce the length of time lame duck Congressmen/Senators are around:
Efforts by Republican President Warren Harding to push a ship subsidy bill through a lame-duck session of Congress in 1922 gave renewed impetus to the cause of limiting such sessions and brought Nebraska Republican Senator George W. Norris on board. The ship subsidy bill, a centerpiece of Harding’s America First program, was designed to expand the nation’s merchant marine fleet by subsidizing the construction of cargo ships by private companies. The legislation was opposed by labor and farm groups as a “grab” by commercial interests and the shipping industry.The story goes on from 1922 until the ratification in 1935 with Senator Norris of Nebraska being part of that long push for this change.*
I told you at the beginning this was going to be boring, right? However, now that we've looked into it, let us celebrate one Constitutional Amendment that WASN'T designed or unintentionally created to change the system of government to the detriment of what our Founders created.
The introduction paragraph of that Amendment XX interpretation page says:
If awards were given to constitutional amendments for quietly doing their job without generating litigation or public controversy, certainly the Twentieth Amendment would be a contender for that prize. Ratified in 1935, it has never been the subject of a Supreme Court decision and has rarely been interpreted by lower courts.I like that. This was a well done amend, something you won't read about here often, and, yes, I know that "amend" is not a noun, but I'm trying hard to attract more Millennial readers.
* I don't know too much about this Senator Norris other than the dam in Tennessee (he was a sponsor of the act that formed the Tennessee Valley Authority. I just read a bit on wiki here. He was a supporter of Amendment XVII, so that's an immediate big strike against the guy, but a few years later the Senator was one of only 6 Senators to vote against the Declaration of War against Germany in 1917. That about makes up for it, plus his efforts to reduce the power of lame duck Congressmen.