Should Congressional Terms Be Limited Essay Research


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Should Congressional Terms Be Limited Essay, Research Paper


For many years, there has been a heated debate on whether or not Congressional terms should be limited. A constitutional amendment has been proposed several times in Congress and has not passed. Twenty-two States passed their own laws to restrict congressional terms that their representatives can serve. Yet in 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that bylaw, states may not limit how long members of Congress can serve as a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate. The 5-4 ruling only affected the states restrictions on Congressional terms, and not the states restrictions on their state legislators.

Although this was almost 5 years, ago, the debate on whether or not to have Congressional terms continues. In 1996, 14 states decided to indicate on future ballots those legislatures that favored or were against the congressional term limit. This was an attempt to force members on Congress to listen to their people or else they might not get elected. Again in 1997, the House rejected an amendment attempting to limit Congressional terms. The amendment needed 290 votes in the house to pass, but only received 211 (Washington Post 1997, p. M05).

I don t think that there should be a limit on Congressional terms. This paper will analyze the opinions of those who are against limiting Congressional terms, the opinions of those who favor it and my opinions on the issue as well as my reasoning.

Arguments of Those Against Limiting Congressional Terms

The Supreme Court Justices who ruled that states should not be able to limit Congressional terms gave several reasons of why they felt that the terms should not be limited. Those that were in favor of this ruling were Justice Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Bryer. They looked back 200 years ago and determined that the framers of the Constitution wanted the people to be free to pick their lawmakers through frequent elections rather than limit who can serve through rules and restrictions, (Savage 1995, p.1). The delegates who met in Philadelphia to write the Constitution were not in favor of limiting Congressional terms. James Madison stated, Better to have veteran lawmakers who will be thoroughly masters of the public business than to require a steady procession of fresh faces, (Savage 1995, p.1). The framers hoped that by creating minimal qualifications, this would allow the people to replace their lawmakers is desired.

James Madison advocated minimal requirements for eligibility was his commitment to democracy (Greenburg 1995, p.A18). He reasoned that if a representative failed to uphold their promises and duties, that they would not be re-elected. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured. (Greenburg 1995, p.A18). This makes perfect sense to me. If a member of Congress is doing a good job representing his people, then why should he or she be limited in his/her terms? If he/she is doing a bad job, don t re-elect him/her.

We believe we have term limits, and they are called elections, said Becky Cain, president of the League of Woman s Voters (Varner 1996 p.4A). Cain feels strongly that notes on the opinions of Congressman should not be included on ballots. The notes on the ballots of how people voted on the amendment to term limits has been referred to as the Scarlet Letter indicating that these people would know how everyone voted. I don t think this should be included on the ballots. Those who really want to know how their Congressmen and women voted can find out very easily. When a notation is made on a ballot, it does not indicate their reasoning of why they voted how they did. I think that the reasoning that those who oppose limiting the terms is very valid. If voters knew this reasoning maybe they would oppose the limits too.

The Democrats have generally opposed limiting Congressional terms as well. Their reasoning is similar to that of the framers of the Constitution.

Arguments of Those Who Favor Limiting Congressional Terms

It is ironic that the court bases today s decision on the right of the people to choose who they please to govern them invalidating a provision that won nearly 60% of the votes cast in a direct election, said Justice Clarence Thomas, who felt that states should be able to set congressional term limits (Savage 1995, p.1). Clarence Thomas makes a very god point here in this statement. However, I still feel that terms can be limited by not re-electing officials is the best way to limit their terms without restricting those Congressmen and women that are doing a good job in office and that voters would like to have stay in office. I don t think that these 60% of Americans who favoring limiting terms realize that they already can limit terms without the amendment by not re-electing an official.

Another reason that those who favor Congressional limits have is that they feel if they limit the number of terms in the House and the Senate, the person can serve terms in the House until their terms are up and then serve terms in the Senate until their terms are up. This is a good idea, but why should a Congressman be able to choose which House they want to be in? If they are qualified and are elected to do so, they should be able to serve in either the House or the Senate for as long as they are re-elected.

The Republicans favor setting a limit on Congressional terms. They feel that if they have more Republicans in Congress, then an amendment would be approved by Congress. This may be true. However look at some of the golden oldies in Congress. Aren t some of them Republicans? I doubt that those older Republicans who have been in Congress for a long time would be in favor of limiting terms and having to resign.

Some feel that since the 22nd amendment was ratified in 1951, limiting the terms of the president that they should be able to limit the terms of Congress. I think that a presidential term is in need of being limited since it is only one person. One person with too much power can be a scary thing. However, there are so many people in Congress that the chances of having all the same people in Congress for a long period of time are not likely. Some aren t re-elected or they get old and die. Congress will always change. Having the same president for numerous terms would not be a change.

Those who want to limit Congressional terms also feel that veteran lawmakers have used their power in their office to help get them re-elected, virtually guaranteeing their re-election. I do agree that it is easy for an incumbent to be re-elected, but think that if they were doing a really bad job they would not be re-elected regardless of how much money they were able to raise for campaigns.

My Final Thoughts

While those who are in favor of limiting the terms in which a person may serve in Congress, I still feel that they should not be limited. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life and have no limits at all. There are 535 members of Congress. Why should the Legislative Branch be limited in who serves them?

If Congressional terms are limited, we may be making it difficult for new representatives and senators to learn the procedures and ways of Congress. Having experienced individuals to run the committees and educate others on the procedures is a good thing. If we have too many new representatives at once, we may eventually lose the procedures that Congress has upheld for so many years.

I know some people may argue that we don t always know how what our legislatures are doing in office. However, I truly think that if they are doing a good job and the people feel that they are they should be re-elected as many times as the people decide they should be.

My main reasoning behind this is the same as the Framers of the Constitution. I know that after 200 years some things that the Framers made laws has changed and needed to be amended such as the terms of a president. However, I think they were right on the dot when they decided not to limit the terms of Congressmen.

While this issue will continue to be debated and probably will someday be added as an amendment to the Constitution, I think Americans already have the power to limit the terms. If this amendment does eventually pass I hope that someday a really great Congressman is elected to office that has done a great job and is forced to resign because of the limit of terms. Just to prove a point


Abdullah, Shareef, Term Limits needed in Congress? Houston Chronicle, April 8,1995,p.35.

For the Record, Washington Post, February 20,1997, p.M05.

Greenburg, Josh, On Term Limits the Constitution is Clear, Washington Post, September 12,1995, p.A18.

Savage, David G., High Court Bars States From Limiting Congressional Terms, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1995,p.1.

Varner, Bill, Voters in 14 States Decide to Limit Congressional Terms, Washington Post, October 17, 1996,p.4A.


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