U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (1995)
514 U.S. 779; 115 S.Ct. 1842; 131 L.Ed. 2d 881
The Facts of the case are these: “An Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution (Amendment 73) prohibited persons who had already served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives or two terms in the U.S Senate from running for Congress. The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the amendment” and the case is now ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Issues of the case are these: 1. Does the State of Arkansas have the authority to mandate term limits for U.S. Representatives and/or U.S. Senators from their State?
The Holding in this case is 1. Does the State of Arkansas have the authority to mandate term limits for U.S. Representatives and/or U.S. Senators from their State? No, they do not.
The Majority Opinion written by Justice Stevens stated in part that: “Permitting individual States to formulate diverse qualifications for their representatives would result in a patchwork of state qualifications, undermining the uniformity and the national character that the Framers envisioned and sought to ensure….” He further stated: “In the absence of a properly passed constitutional amendment, allowing individual States to craft their own qualifications for Congress would thus erode the structure envisioned by the Framers, a structure that was designed, in the words of the Preamble to our Constitution, to form a more perfect Union….”
Justice Kennedy concurred with the Majority, but wrote a separate concurring opinion….
Justice Thomas, with whom the Chief Justice, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Scalia join, dissenting; Justice Thomas states in part: “It is ironic that the Court bases today’s decision on the right of the people to ‘choose whom they please to govern them.’ …Under our Constitution, there is only one State whose people have the right to ‘choose whom they please’ to represent Arkansas in Congress. The Court holds, however, that neither the elected legislature of that State nor the people themselves (acting by ballot initiative) may prescribe any qualifications for those representatives. The majority therefore defends the right of the people of Arkansas to ‘choose whom they please to govern them’ by invalidating a provision that won nearly 60% of the votes case in a direct election and that carried every congressional district in the State. I dissent. Nothing in the Constitution deprives the people for each State of the power to prescribe eligibility requirements for the candidates who seek to represent them in Congress. The Constitution is simply silent on this question…”
The significance of this case is that the Court ruled in a very unusual way, with this ruling the Court struck down the only voters whom would be reasonable enough to establish term limits. If this ruling would have gone the other direction, federalism would have ruled the day, placing the power of qualifications on the state and the people; while the Congress itself is not inclined to limit how much money they can make and how long they can serve in a job, this case would have moved us more toward a federalist society rather than a central government society.
Citation: American Constitutional Law: Sources of Power and Restraint, Congress and the Development of National Power
Legal Brief by David A.W. Hittle
May 2, 2013