Inaugural Tickets: Past Practices and Considerations for Congress

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November 17, 2020
Inaugural Tickets: Past Practices and Considerations for

Since the 20th Amendment was ratified, the oath of office
around the Capitol. Figure 1 shows the 2017 Inauguration
for President of the United States has been administered
Ceremonies Map and Guidelines.
every four years on January 20. The next presidential
inauguration is scheduled to take place on January 20,
Figure 1. 2017 Inauguration Ceremonies Map
On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jef erson became the first
President to be inaugurated at the U.S. Capitol in
Washington, D.C., in a room now known as the “Old
Supreme Court Chamber.” In 1829, Andrew Jackson
became the first President to be inaugurated on the
East Front of the Capitol, where the majority of
swearing-in ceremonies continued to take place until
the late twentieth century. It was not until President
Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on January 20, 1981, that
the swearing-in ceremony moved to the West Front
of the Capitol where larger crowds could be
Sen. Mitch McConnel , Congressional Record,
(October 11, 2000), p. S10267

The move to the West Front of the Capitol not only
accommodated larger crowds who could view the ceremony

from the Capitol grounds, but also allowed for use of the
Source: United States Capitol Police, “Inaugural Ceremonies-Map
National Mall. Additionally, the Architect of the Capitol
and Guidance,” press release, January 12, 2017,
has been able to build a larger platform on the West Front,
which in recent years has accommodated more than 1,600
Ticket Allocation
Inaugural Tickets
Each inauguration, the JCCIC allocates tickets to
As the host of the inauguration, the House and Senate
congressional offices. Allocated tickets are generally a
jointly appoint the Joint Congressional Committee on
combination of seated tickets—on the inaugural platform
Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) every four years. The
and areas closest to the West Front of the Capitol—and
JCCIC is primarily responsible for arranging and hosting
standing tickets, which are often behind the seated tickets.
the swearing-in ceremony and hosting an inaugural
As depicted in Figure 1, in 2017, seated tickets were
located on the inaugural platform and in the yellow and
green sections. Standing tickets were located in the non-
To accommodate both Members of Congress and
numbered yellow, green, blue, orange, red, and gray/silver
constituents who might be interested in attending the
areas. Areas beyond these locations were not ticketed and
swearing-in ceremony in person, the JCCIC has
were generally open to the public for viewing on large
traditionally authorized seated and standing sections on the
inaugural platform, the U.S. Capitol grounds, and the
National Mall to accommodate attendees. To ease the
Ticket Distribution
process of attendees finding their seating or standing
Once the JCCIC determines the number of tickets each
locations, the JCCIC and the United States Capitol Police
Member office receives, the Representative or Senator may
(USCP) have jointly issued a map of ticketed areas showing
determine ticket allocation and distribution. For past
color-coded sections that correspond to tickets. The map
inaugurations, tickets could not be mailed to recipients and
has also included instructions on entering the secured area
had to be picked up in person. For the 2017 Inauguration,
the JCCIC distributed tickets to Member offices on January

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Inaugural Tickets: Past Practices and Considerations for Congress
9, 2017, and Members generally arranged for ticket pickup
term). Figure 3 shows President Reagan’s second public
between January 17 and 19, 2017.
inauguration ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
When allocating tickets, the JCCIC has in the past
Figure 3. President Ronald Reagan’s 1985 Public
encouraged Members to create a request and allocation
Inauguration Ceremony
procedure. How offices take ticket requests and decide on
allocation has varied, and some Members’ ticket allocation
plans have included lotteries from among interested
constituents. Tickets distributed to the public are
traditionally color coded to correspond to the Inaugural
Map issued by the JCCIC and the Capitol Police. Figure 2
shows an example of a ticket issued for President John F.
Kennedy’s 1961 Inauguration.
Figure 2. 1961 Inaugural Ceremony Ticket

Source: Library of Congress, Fish-eye view of the rotunda in the U.S.
Capitol, just prior to the swearing-in ceremony of Ronald Reagan
Washington DC, 1985. Photograph.
The USCP, along with the United States Secret Service

(USSS) and other federal law enforcement agencies,
Source: U.S Congress, Senate, “1961 Inauguration Ceremony,” at
provides security for the inauguration. The USSS is the lead
federal law enforcement agency, as authorized by P.L. 106-
544, and provides security for the President-elect (and

current President, for inaugurations involving a transition)
Considerations for the 2021 Inauguration and coordinates the event as a National Special Security
As Inauguration Day draws nearer, in addition to the
Event (NSSE), while the USCP provides policing and
JCCIC’s ticket allocation and Member offices’ ticket
security for Members of Congress and around the Capitol
distribution, several other considerations might be relevant
for the 2021 Inauguration. These include COVID-19 and
For the 2021 Inauguration, USCP has already set up a
security perimeter around the West Front of the Capitol in
preparation for the swearing-in ceremony. Additionally, on
The JCCIC has announced that “due to the global pandemic
Inauguration Day, streets around the Capitol Complex are
... [it] is committed to traditional, inclusive, and safe
generally closed; access to buildings on Capitol Hill,
ceremonies and will continue to monitor the situation and
including the U.S. Capitol, is restricted; and staging areas to
provide information to all Members as it comes available.”
screen ticketed attendees are set up at strategic locations
As such, the JCCIC has not issued specific plans for the
around the Capitol (see circular dots in Figure 1).
2021 Inauguration at this time.
Because the details of the 2021 swearing-in ceremony are
Historically, inauguration plans at times have been
still unknown and the number of potential attendees has not
adjusted. For example, when January 20 falls on a Sunday,
been determined, adjustments to security arrangements may
public ceremonies have historically been moved to
be made in response to the particular arrangements that are
Monday, January 21, with the President-elect sworn in
made for the 2021 Inauguration.
during a private ceremony at noon on January 20. Further,
in 1985, for President Ronald Reagan’s second
For more information on the Inauguration, see CRS Report
inauguration, January 20 fell on a Saturday and the public
R42603, Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural
ceremony was scheduled for the West Front of the Capitol
Ceremonies: History, Membership, and Inaugural
on Monday, January 21. The January 21 ceremony,
Activities; and CRS Report R42867, Inauguration Security:
however, was moved indoors to the Capitol Rotunda
Operations, Appropriations, and Issues for Congress.
because of freezing weather (an estimated 7°F, with a wind
chill of -10°F to -20°F at noon, the constitutionally
Jacob R. Straus, Specialist on the Congress
specified time for the beginning of the new presidential

Inaugural Tickets: Past Practices and Considerations for Congress

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
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