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The 20th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states

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.

Section 2. 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.

Section 1 says that the term of the new Congress begins on January 3rd, but that is not the same thing as actually meeting and being sworn in. Section 2 makes January 3rd the default date for that to happen, but also allows that date to be changed by law.

January 3, 2021 is a Sunday. Will the new Congress be sworn in on that day, or have they already designated a different day to be sworn in?

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    In the event, the 117th Congress was sworn in on Sunday, January 3, 2021. Jul 27 at 14:35
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Final Result: The 117th Congress did actually meet and swear in on a Sunday, January 3, 2021. Per the other answer by @NateEldredge, this was the first Sunday swearing in for at least several decades.


December Update: There still does not appear to be a bill to change the date of convening the 117th Congress. However, an entry in the Congressional Record for December 20, 2020 states this:

Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, today is Sunday, and I want to remember what Senator Byrd said on a lot of Sundays when the Senate was in session. He didn't say this because he didn't want to work on Sunday, but he wanted everybody to remember the significance of Sunday for some people, particularly Christians. He always said: ``Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.''

Now, I want to refer to another particular Sunday. Never in the Senate's history has the Senate convened Congress -- meaning a new Congress -- on a Sunday. The Constitution mandates that Congress convene at noon on January 3, unless the preceding Congress, by law, designates a different day.

Of course, January 3 has fallen on a Sunday over the last 238 years, and each time, by unanimous consent, the Congress set a new convening day other than that Sunday. So now it appears, for the first time in history, that Senate Democrats don't want to agree to such unanimous consent and instead are insisting that the Senate start the 117th Congress on Sunday.

I am not looking to get out of work. I have proven that I have respect for attendance in the Senate. But out of respect, the Senate usually does not have business on religious holidays observed by members of various faiths.

So just like Senator Byrd, I also think the Lord's Day, particularly when it is paired with the weight of starting a new Congress, deserves reverence.

I yield.

If Senator Grassley is correct, then all previous Congresses never allowed the convening date to fall on a Sunday. Although there do not appear to be any bills formally introduced yet for the convening of the 117th Congress, his remarks above suggest that there has at least been discussion of the issue, and he accuses Senate Democrats of preventing the change of date.

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  • It seems then that previous designations of different meeting days were unconstitutional, since unanimous consent of both houses is not sufficient to enact a law. But it's worth noting that January 3rd was irrelevant before 1934, because the 20th amendment was adopted in 1933 (after January 3rd). Before the 20th amendment, the constitutional default for the first meeting was the first Monday in December, which obviously never fell on a Sunday. January 3rd fell on a Sunday twelve times between 1934 and today.
    – phoog
    Dec 30 '20 at 15:40
  • @phoog: Unanimous consent of both houses suffices to pass a bill, though, does it not? Then it becomes law when the President signs it, which it seems has previously happened without controversy. Here is the bill which set the day of convening for the 114th Congress. It passed the House "without objection", passed the Senate by unanimous consent, and was signed into law by President Obama. Dec 30 '20 at 21:02
  • @NateEldredge yes, if the president signed the bill then it was a law (obligatory Schoolhouse Rock: youtube.com/watch?v=FFroMQlKiag&t=156s -- keep watching for the discussion of veto overrides).
    – phoog
    Jul 28 at 1:48
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They will probably not be sworn in on a Sunday

As far as I can tell, they have so far not passed a law to change the date. However, you can see here a list of past dates of convening; they very frequently appoint a day different from January 3. Checking the past dozen or so, they have never convened on a weekend, and they seem to avoid Mondays and Fridays as well.

Here you can see several recent instances of the legislation setting a different day for convening. It seems like such bills have mostly been introduced in mid-November to early December.

So given the history, it seems likely that Congress will pass a law designating a different day, but hasn't yet gotten around to doing so. My guess is that it will be Tuesday, January 5, 2021.

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    If Congress doesn't convene until January 5, does that mean the President can make recess appointments between January 3 and January 5?
    – user102008
    Oct 4 '20 at 20:13
  • @user102008 No, the Supreme Court has ruled that breaks of 3 days or less are too short to be considered a recess purposes of recess appointments (and even breaks up to 10 days are too short except in very unusual circumstances).
    – Elezar
    Nov 12 '20 at 19:21
  • @Eleazar how long is the break here? When will congress last have met? And does that ruling apply to breaks between successive congresses or only adjournments within the term of a single congress?
    – phoog
    Dec 30 '20 at 15:12
  • @phoog Based on how user102008 asked his question, I assumed he meant that the outgoing Congress would have adjourned on January 3. The actual length of the break can vary a lot. It's not uncommon for Congress to adjourn before Christmas, and have that be the end of their session. In that case, the difference between the new session starting on January 3 or January 5 likely wouldn't matter. This year, the previous Congress actually never officially adjourned, so they were auto-adjourned at the point that the new session started.
    – Elezar
    Jan 25 at 1:22

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