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Lame-Duck Amendment

The popular name given to the TWENTIETH AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution.

Senator GEORGE W. NORRIS proposed the amendment on March 2, 1932, as a way to shorten the period of time in election, or even-numbered, years during which members of Congress who had failed to be reelected (the lame ducks) would serve in office until their terms expired.

The handicap of a session of Congress with numerous lame ducks was particularly evident in December 1932. During the thirteen weeks of that session of the Seventy-second Congress, 158 defeated members (out of a total of 431) served until the new Congress convened in March 1933. In the meantime the newly elected members, spurred by their recent electoral victories and the problems of a nationwide economic depression, had to wait inactive and unorganized until the term of the old Congress expired.

The Norris proposal was ratified by the requisite number of state legislatures on January 23, 1933, and took effect on October 15 of that year. The new amendment stipulated that the terms of all members of Congress begin on January 3. It also required Congress to convene on January 3 each year and for the president and vice president to be inaugurated on January 20 rather than in March. Two sections of the amendment also clarified the problem of presidential succession under certain conditions.

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