Lame Duck

views updated May 18 2018


An elected official, who is to be followed by another, during the period of time between the election and the date that the successor will fill the post.

The term lame duck generally describes one who holds power when that power is certain to end in the near future. In the United States, when an elected official loses an election, that official is called a lame duck for the remainder of his or her stay in office. The term lame duck can apply to any person with decision-making powers, but it is usually refers to presidents, governors, and state and federal legislators.

When a legislature assembles between election day and the day that new legislators assume office, the meeting is called a lame-duck session. On the federal level, under the twentieth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Senate and the House of Representatives must convene on January 3 each year. Incoming legislators assume office that day, and outgoing legislators leave office that day. Thus, from the day after election day in November until late December, retiring and defeated legislators have time to pass more legislation.

Legislatures do not have to conduct lame-duck sessions. In fact, if many of their members will be new in the next legislative session, the idea of their defeated lawmakers voting on legislation may be criticized by the public—especially by those who voted for the incoming legislators. The issue of whether to conduct a session between mid-November and early January is usually decided by a vote of the legislators in office during the last session before the election. The legislature may elect to reconvene on a certain date, to adjourn at the call of the chair of either house or both houses, or to adjourn sine die (without planning a day to reconvene). Also, a lame-duck president or governor has the power to call a lame-duck session.

Lame-duck sessions may be called to pass emergency legislation for the immediate benefit or protection of the public during November or December. They also may be conducted for political purposes. For example, if a certain party stands to lose the presidency or governorship and seats in the new legislature, that party may seek to push through a few last pieces of legislation. Thus, lame-duck sessions can spawn hastily written legislation, and the finished product may be of dubious quality.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), also known as Superfund (42 U.S.C.A. § 9601 et seq.), is a piece of lame-duck legislation. This federal statute, which regulates the cleanup of toxic waste sites, was hurriedly passed by a lame-duck Congress and signed by lame-duck president jimmy carter in December 1980. Congress crafted the statute with virtually no debate and under rules that allowed for no amendments. CERCLA is regarded as problem ridden by persons on all sides of the environmental debate.

further readings

Kuhnle, Tom. 1996. "The Rebirth of Common Law Action for Addressing Hazardous Waste Contamination." Stanford Environmental Law Journal 15.

Thurmond, William M. 1996. "CERCLA's 'All Appropriate Inquiry': When Is Enough, Enough?" Florida Bar Journal 70 (March).


Environmental Law.

Lame-Duck Amendment

views updated May 29 2018


LAME-DUCK AMENDMENT, the name applied to the Twentieth Amendment (1933) to the U.S. Constitution, abolished so-called lame-duck sessions of Congress, which were held from December of even-numbered years until the following 4 March. These sessions acquired their nickname because they included numerous members who had been defeated (the lame ducks) in elections held a month before the session opened. The law permitted them to sit and function until their terms ended in March, while a newly elected Congress, with a fresh popular mandate, stood by inactive and unorganized. Newly elected members usually had to wait thirteen months to take office, because the lame-duck sessions lasted only three months, and Congress did not reconvene until the following December. In the last lame-duck session, which opened in December 1932, 158 defeated members sat in the Senate and House. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. George W. Norris of Nebraska, did away with the lame-duck session by moving back the day on which terms of senators and representatives begin from 4 March to 3 January, and by requiring Congress to convene each year on January 3—about two months after election. The amendment also set back the date of the president's and the vice-president's inauguration from March to 20 January. Other provisions relate to the choice of president under certain contingencies.


Anastaplo, George. The Amendments to the Constitution: A Commentary. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

P. OrmanRay/c. p.

See alsoConstitution of the United States .

Lame-Duck Amendment

views updated Jun 27 2018


The popular name given to thetwentieth amendmentto 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.

lame duck

views updated May 17 2018

lame duck • n. an official (esp. the president) in the final period of office, after the election of a successor: as a lame duck, the president had nothing to lose by approving the deal [as adj.] a lame-duck governor. ∎  an ineffectual or unsuccessful person or thing.

lame duck

views updated May 09 2018

lame duck an ineffectual or unsuccessful person or thing, originally (in the mid 18th century) Stock Exchange slang for one who could not meet his financial engagements, a defaulter. The term is first recorded in a letter from Horace Walpole of 1761.