Supreme Court Rejects State Term-Limit Laws Ruling Forces Advocates to Seek Constitutional Change

By Peter Grier, writer of The Christian Science Monitor. writers Robert Marquand and Lawrence J. Goodrich contributed to this report. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 1995 | Go to article overview

Supreme Court Rejects State Term-Limit Laws Ruling Forces Advocates to Seek Constitutional Change


Peter Grier, writer of The Christian Science Monitor. writers Robert Marquand and Lawrence J. Goodrich contributed to this report., The Christian Science Monitor


THE path for proponents of term limits for members of Congress has just become much steeper.

The United States Supreme Court's decision yesterday rejecting term limits imposed by state legislatures as unconstitutional leaves advocates one main option, if such limits are to become law: a constitutional amendment.

A term-limit amendment would have to pass both chambers of Congress by a two-thirds vote as well as the legislatures of 38 states. Even backers of the issue say that would be difficult to achieve.

For one thing, it would mean large numbers of federal lawmakers would have to vote for their own eventual unemployment.

For another, it would mean a broader range of states would have to prove amenable to term limits than has so far been the case.

The strongest push for term limits to date has come from populist-oriented Western states, although 22 state legislatures have approved term-limit measures in one form or another.

"The proponents of term limits have to start all over again," says Thomas Baker, professor of constitutional law at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

In its 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court rejected an Arkansas term-limits measure.

US Supreme Court Rejects State Limits On Federal Terms

A majority of justices rejected the notion that the law was only an election regulation -- something within the power of states to decide.

Instead, the justices held that state-passed term limits for congressional members strike at the heart of powers reserved for the federal government by constitutional law. They also ruled that Congress itself could not merely pass its own term-limit statute.

"Neither Congress nor the states should possess the power to supplement the exclusive qualifications set forth in {constitutional} text," said the 61-page opinion.

Court watchers point out that if George Bush had been elected president instead of Bill Clinton, the decision could easily have gone the other way. Clinton-appointed justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer joined Anthony Kennedy and David Souter in the majority opinion. …

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