Weekly Feature

2012-04-18 / Editorial

Constitution, tradition ignored if Inauguration Day is on a Sunday

Managing Editor

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1933, changed the beginning of a presidential term from March 4 to Jan. 20. It took effect for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term in 1937.

Next year, after the dust has settled from a marathon presidential campaign, Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced late last month that it has voted to push the ceremony back one day, to Monday, Jan. 21, “since January 20, 2013 is a Sunday.”

What happened to tradition?

This is the seventh time in U.S. history that the constitutionally mandated inauguration date has fallen on a Sunday, according to the committee’s website. The last time was for President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985.

“When this occurs, the public ceremonies traditionally are held on Monday,” the committee’s press release adds. Well, that has happened only twice since 1937.

Sunday hardly holds the sanctity it once did. I was in Washington, D.C., on Easter Sunday this year and was surprised at how normal things were on the holiest day of the Christian calendar. The Harris Teeter store off Pennsylvania Avenue was open for business. Hipsters were out wearing their Under Armor and North Face swag, walking their dogs en route to a latte purchase.

On the other hand, it was gratifying to see hundreds of people of all ages lined up outside the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, waiting for the first of three Masses to conclude so that they could enter and worship at the 11:30 a.m. service. Afterward, restaurants from Georgetown to the Anacostia River were packed.

Gone are the days when blue laws prevented the sale of many items, including alcohol, on Sundays, at least in New York State. Football fans in Indianapolis were caught in this 18th-century debate earlier this year, as Indiana is one of only two states that ban the sale of beer, wine and liquor at stores statewide on Sundays, according to NPR.

James Monroe was the first president to dodge a Sunday inauguration – 191 years ago. He consulted with the Supreme Court and decided to take the oath of office on Jan. 21, 1821, “because courts and other public institutions were not open on Sunday.”

While that defense is true, 1821 was long before Harris Teeter went into business and latte became a staple of the shining city on a hill.

What if Groundhog Day fell on a Sunday? Would the powers that be in Punxsutawney push the tradition back 24 hours to preserve the decorum of a Sunday morning? I think not.

What about Halloween? I’m sure this pagan observance has fallen on a Sunday more than once, creating quite a conflict between heaven and hell.

It’s laughable that the committee seriously thinks there is justification not to hold the 57th presidential inauguration on a Sunday. The new date of Monday, Jan. 21, will coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but federal officials announced business as usual will return to Washington on Jan. 22. I think a Sunday morning would be a beautiful setting for such an inspiring event.

Some groups responsible for organizing formal occasions and receptions tied to the 2013 inauguration are now scrambling to determine if they will stay with Sunday evening to hold their festivities despite the fact that the main event has not yet taken place. Members of the New York State Society of Washington, D.C., will stick with plans for Jan. 20 for their black tie gala, which benefits the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Ironically, Sen. Chuck Schumer of the Empire State is chairman of the bipartisan 2013 committee. He said the inauguration is a time for the country “to come together around our president and celebrate the strength of our democracy.”

Just don’t plan on holding it on a Sunday. Too bad the Constitution just keeps getting in the way.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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