Lame Duck Logic

45 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2011 Last revised: 24 May 2012

Date Written: October 28, 2011


This article analyzes the arguments regarding the propriety of a lame-duck Congress. It does so by comparing the concerns that animated the enactment of the twentieth amendment with the claims advanced during the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress. It begins by describing why lame-duck Congresses were as troublesome to the Republican members of the 111th Congress as they were to the overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress that approved the twentieth amendment. Their objections differed in a crucial respect. While the framers of the twentieth amendment sought to prevent Congress from doing anything during a lame-duck session, most Republicans in 2010 objected only to the priorities that the Democratic leadership pursued during the lame-duck session. The article next analyzes the arguments offered by Democratic representatives and their supporters during the lame-duck session in 2010, comparing those arguments to the ones articulated by the few defenders of lame-ducks in the 1920s and early 1930s. Finally, the article examines the ways in which the Republican opponents of the lame-duck session in 2010 sought to prevent Congress from enacting any laws that they found objectionable. In each instance, the arguments echo a constitutional debate that was thought to be settled in 1933, and they offer insight into the ways in which the uniquely American struggle with lame-ducks could be settled once and for all.

Keywords: lame-duck, Congress, House of Representatives, Senate, twentieth amendment, don’t ask don’t tell, President Obama, START treaty, election, 2010, George Norris, democratic, representatives, election day, filibuster

Suggested Citation

Nagle, John Copeland, Lame Duck Logic (October 28, 2011). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 45, p. 1177, (2012); Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 11-40. Available at SSRN:

John Copeland Nagle (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

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