The President's term is fixed to a specific length. That means its start and end dates are not dependent on which weekday is most convenient (as opposed to a national holiday like Veteran's Day), and that a President's inauguration could be any day of the week (including Saturday or Sunday).

Now suppose that the President-elect of the United States stringently practices a religion with some kind of Sabbath. If Inauguration Day falls on this Sabbath, the President-elect would be unavailable to be sworn in. In such a case, can the outgoing President delay or advance the transfer of power by a day or two to accommodate the President-elect? If not, what would happen instead?

Note: This question is not exclusively about Judaism, despite its non-working Shabbat perhaps being the most well-known. Seventh-Day Adventists do it too, I think.


3 Answers 3


There is no provision for delaying the outgoing president's departure.

It would be possible for the outgoing vice president to resign and allow the incoming president to become vice president prior to the Sabbath. Then the outgoing president could resign and allow the incoming president to take office early. The outgoing president could choose to do that, but the incoming president couldn't force it.

Two presidents, James Monroe and Zachary Taylor, delayed their inaugurations because they fell on Sundays (the Christian Sabbath). From Wikipedia:

As neither Taylor nor Fillmore had taken the oath of office on March 4, some historians and Constitutional scholars have argued that neither of them had any legal authority as President in the interim until they did. They go on to argue that, as both President James K. Polk and Vice President George Dallas ceased to hold their offices at noon on March 4, the executive branch was officially empty, and President pro tempore of the United States Senate David Rice Atchison (who at the time was third in line to the presidency) was Acting President until the inauguration on March 5. At the time, friends jestingly pestered Atchenson for ambassadorships and cabinet positions, and he gleefully refused. Whether or not Atchison was actually Acting President or not has been a subject of debate ever since.

Millard Fillmore was Taylor's vice president.

Rutherford B. Hayes took the oath of office early, on Saturday, March 3rd, 1877. But again, he wouldn't actually become president until March 4th.

It's worth noting that January 20th, 2013 was a Sunday (the Christian Sabbath). Also in 1985 and 1957. So Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and Dwight Eisenhower actually faced this situation (albeit when re-elected). March 4th was on a Sunday in 1917, 1877, 1849, and 1821. Zachary Taylor in 1849 was the only initial inauguration.

Assuming the incoming president doesn't take the oath of office on time, the vice president would be president until the president-elect took the oath of office. Should the vice president be unavailable, the next two in the current line of succession are the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate.

Presumably the vice president would also serve as president on every other Sabbath throughout the term. Because being president is a twenty-four/seven job. There are no days off. A president must be available in case of emergency.

Note: I'm ignoring the realities of the religion, which may allow for exceptions to the Sabbath rules. The question assumes that this wouldn't be an exception, so I'm going with that. But if all religions would make this an exception, these contingencies may not be necessary.

  • 1
    I appreciate the note at the end. The intricacies of what someone could or couldn't do on the Sabbath in any given religion are way off topic here. I would assume that the President would at least be available for emergency decisions on their Sabbath, or they shouldn't be running in the first place. It's the scheduled/routine/non-emergency stuff (like an inauguration) that'd be more problematic.
    – Bobson
    May 7, 2018 at 16:26
  • Referring to Sunday as "the Christian Sabbath" is a bit problematic. There are four main positions in Christianity: Saturday is observed as the Sabbath, the Sabbath is irrelevant to Christians, Sunday is "the Lord's Day", which is observed much like the Sabbath but is not the Sabbath, or Sunday is the Sabbath. May 7, 2018 at 17:09
  • @Acccumulation In this context, "Christian Sabbath" is pretty clearly not a theological claim, it is just shorthand for a day that a different faith might have specific rules about. As you say, different branches of Christianity treat Sunday (or Saturday) very differently; if the president elect's faith doesn't restrict their behavior on those days, its clearly outside the scope of this question.
    – BradC
    May 7, 2018 at 21:46
  • @BradC It's a claim that Sunday is the day that Christians consider the Sabbath. That is not true of Christians in general. If the president-elect is a Seventh Day Adventist, then that would be within the scope of the question, and they would be a Christian who consider Saturday to be the Sabbath. May 7, 2018 at 21:50
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    @Acccumulation My point is that you are splitting hairs in a way that is more suited to christianity.SE than politics.SE, clearly Brythan simply meant "or whatever day their religion proscribes certain behavior". You're welcome to suggest an edit in Brythan's wording, if you like.
    – BradC
    May 7, 2018 at 22:00

In 2013, 1985, 1957 and on several occasions before that, inauguration day (the 20th of January since the passing of amendment 20) fell on a Sunday. When this has happened, the inauguration ceremony was moved to the Monday the 21st.

It is quite reasonable to suppose that a President who for some religious reason could not take part in ceremonies on a Saturday could hold the Ceremony on the Sunday or Monday - the date of the inauguration ceremony is not specified by the constitution.

The constitution specifies that "The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, [...] and the terms of their successors shall then begin." So on Saturday the 20th he becomes President. However "Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation ..." So while he becomes president on the 20th, he can't exercise the powers of office until he has sworn the oath.

In 1957, 1985 and 2013 a sitting president was reelected, so they had already sworn the oath. If a new president were elected when the inauguration day had to be moved to a Monday, the president could be sworn in in a private ceremony, then publically resworn. He could even take the oath before the 20th, and be able to exercise the powers of the office from the moment he becomes President.

There is no requirement for the oath to be taken as part of a large ceremony. Compare the first swearing in of Obama, when the wording of the oath was wrong, and so he chose to retake the oath privately. Compare also the swearing in of Johnson, on board Air Force 1 after Kennedy was killed.

In short this turns out not to be a problem. The president can assume office on the 20th but delay the inauguration Ceremony to a convenient date.

  • 1
    The president could also swear the oath before the term of office begins.
    – phoog
    May 5, 2018 at 18:54
  • 2
    This "He could even take the oath before the 20th, and be able to exercise the powers of the office from the moment he becomes President." looks like the most practical solution. It is not like a president is surprised by the act - the whole administration is in takeover mode for a significant time.
    – TomTom
    May 6, 2018 at 13:38
  • The shifting of the date from Sunday to Monday applied to the public ceremony. The actual swearing in still happened as required in the Constitution, on the 20th (Sunday), in a private ceremony. May 7, 2018 at 1:00

Maybe instead of asking the public to yield, the religion should.

Here's a solid precedent for that approach:

Inauguration Day for President Trump was January 20, 2017 — a Friday.

A public ceremony was held during the day. Inaugural balls were held at night.

President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his wife (the President's daughter), Ivanka Trump, are both Orthodox Jews (she converted to Judaism; the President is not Jewish). They adhere to a kosher diet and observe the Sabbath ("Shabbat"), which is observed (roughly) from sunset on Friday to sunset of Saturday each week.

Shabbat, as stated in Wikipedia:

...entails refraining from work activities, often with great rigor, and engaging in restful activities to honor the day.

When former Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), an observant Jew, was running for Vice President in the 2000 presidential election, Slate Magazine wondered what would happen if he one day assumed the Presidency, listing some of the religious restrictions:

Lieberman is also what Jews call "Shomer Shabbas" — he observes the rules that say what a Jew can and can't do between sunset Friday night and sunset Saturday night. Among the many things he can't do: drive or be driven, turn lights on or off, talk on the telephone, operate anything powered by electricity, or write.

Mrs. Trump herself told Vogue Magazine:

“Yeah, we observe the Sabbath,” says Ivanka, sipping her lychee martini. “From Friday to Saturday we don’t do anything but hang out with one another. We don’t make phone calls.”

Of course, this means that Mr. Kushner and Mrs. Trump would not be able to attend any inaugural events on Friday night and many on Saturday.

So how was this problem handled?

Mr. Kushner and Mrs. Trump reportedly received "special permission" from a Rabbi to break from Orthodox Jewish Law in order to participate fully in the President's inauguration.

Maybe such an exception could be granted to a President if he/she were an observant Jew (and not just on Inauguration Day, but every Friday and Saturday).


  • 2
    Good insight, but man is your lead antagonizing.
    – JesseTG
    May 6, 2018 at 17:37
  • I think it sounds like you're being dismissive of one's religion, even if unintentionally. I want to emphasize that I don't think you meant it, and that sometimes words are just chosen poorly (it happens to me too). I submitted an edit.
    – JesseTG
    May 6, 2018 at 17:45
  • Gotcha. Thanks for the feedback. Definitely not meant to be dismissive or offensive. I'm a proud Jewish American, but I do believe that the public interest far outweighs the interests of any particular religion or even all religions as a whole. Maybe a little of that came out subconsciously ;-) @JesseTG May 6, 2018 at 17:48
  • In fairness to your point, however, I can see how my opening statement reads as dismissive of religion. So let me modify my previous response: Asking a religion to yield to the public (which is the premise of my answer) is not meant to be any more dismissive than asking the public to yield to a religion (which is the premise of your question). I hope you don't take that the wrong way. I'm just suggesting that we're operating in the same context. May 6, 2018 at 18:22
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    This is the most likely outcome, especially given that the Israeli prime minister also works on the Shabbat if necessary. Judaism has a long tradition of departing from normal rules for the sake of society at large. May 6, 2018 at 20:35

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