© 2010 jbjd
Words matter. Interpretation of the words found in a legal treatise cannot be dependent only on ‘plain meaning’ but must be considered in context. Especially where these words appear in the context of the U.S. Constitution.
For example, the definition of the word “qualified” in the 20th Amendment (the Norris Lame Duck Amendment) ≠ the definition of the word “eligible” in Article II, section 1.
Here is the 20th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (All emphasis is added by jbjd.)
(Keep in mind, at the time the 20th Amendment was ratified in 1933, Electors cast their votes for President and Vice President separately notwithstanding after the 12th Amendment, the President and Vice President ran and campaigned for office, as a team. Id.)
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.
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 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.
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.
Without getting into a whole legal dissertation, this amendment can be summed up as fixing new dates for the terms of office of the President and Vice President; and members of Congress so as to minimize the length of time these public officials not re-elected to office – lame ducks – would sit before being replaced by their successors.
Because its history points to the time between the Elector voting and the Congressional and Presidential terms, which once were several months apart, when, lacking a sufficient vote by the Electors for either President or Vice President, the vote was thrown to this lame duck Congress. The word “qualified” relative to the President in this case only refers to having obtained the requisite number of Elector votes to win office, or, lacking those votes, having been ‘elected’ by the votes of Congress. If no such President had qualified, the Vice President who had qualified by receiving the requisite Elector votes or, lacking that, sufficient votes in Congress would act as President until all voting was completed for that office. Otherwise, this Amendment makes absolutely no sense.
Remember, no public actor previous to the passage of this Amendment was required through either the Constitution or the U.S. Code, to vet either the President or Vice-President as to Constitutional eligibility; and no law required Electors (or Congress) to elect only a President or Vice President eligible under Article II, section 1 of the Constitution, anyway. Now, ask yourself: what sense does it presently make to assume the pre-existence of such mandatory-election-of-eligible-candidates laws, just so as to usurp the word “qualified” to suit an otherwise perverted interpretation of the law?
In sum, the definition of the word “qualified” in the 20th Amendment (the Norris Lame Duck Amendment) ≠ the definition of the word “eligible” in Article II, section 1. Never. Ever. This means, a person can be qualified to be President under Amendment XX and still be ineligible under Article II for the job. And all the convoluted legal tomes (or foot stomping or arm twisting) in the world cannot change this unalterable truth.
For a full explanation of the purpose of this Lame Duck Amendment, see
For more interesting reading on the 20th Amendment, see “Investigating the “Norris Thesis”: Presidential Influence, Party Power, and Lame-Duck Sessions of Congress, 1877-1933” (arguing that no evidence supports Sen. Norris’ fears that a lame duck Congress would wreak havoc on the democratic process); and “Is the lame duck Congress constitutional,” at
(suggesting some legislative tweaking to restrict the lame duck Congress might be in order).