OPINION: Vetoing Congressional Term Limits


Photo credit/ Jennifer Flynn

Opinion Editor Emma Rushworth explains why Congressional term limits are not a cure for our government.

Emma Rushworth, Opinion Editor

The idea of term limits for Congress is almost as old as our country, with the first legislative proposal in 1789. Over 80% of Americans in a 2018 McLaughlin poll were in favor of term limits for Congress. As recently as 2016, Donald Trump was promising term limits to “drain the swamp” during his campaigns. Although I am in favor of term limits for Supreme Court justices, I am adamantly against term limits for Congress.

Roger Sherman, one of the Framers of the Constitution, wrote in a 1788 open letter, ”Nothing renders government more unstable than a frequent change of the persons that administer it.” The instability that would result in the revolving doors of new Congresspersons could have a ripple effect on the entire government.

Given how slow our government works now, constantly replacing members of Congress will lead to a delay in nearly all functions of the legislative branch.

Serving as an elected official brings a lot of responsibility and comes with a learning curve. Without older, more experienced politicians, learning the ropes of Congress would be a nearly insurmountable task.

Additionally, I believe most younger members of Congress may be more susceptible to being wooed by lobbyists and big corporate interests. While politicians from various ages, experiences, and parties take donations from special interests, policymakers who have firm stances on a certain topic are less likely to try and be influenced by corporate money against that topic.

Term limits wouldn’t just potentially weed out corrupt politicians, they would eliminate the good ones, too. In no other job could you get fired for having done your job correctly. Presidents, even the good ones, have term limits to curb authoritarian power and to allow for a new leader, like every other democracy. Who’s to say that term limits would remove corruption? A corrupt politician could easily be elected in the place of one whose term is up.

The Constitution already provides for Congressional term limits. It’s simple: to term-limit your Representative or Senator: vote! Each member of the House of Representatives serves two-year terms, and Senators are up for reelection every six years. Any change to this would require legislation to amend the Constitution. The only time the process of electing senators was changed was in 1913 with the passage of the 17th amendment, where the people elected their own senators instead of them being appointed by the state legislatures.

There was a joint resolution regarding term limits introduced in both the Senate and House in 1995. This never reached a vote on either floor and died in committee.

In 1995, the Supreme Court case of U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton decided that states could not determine term limits for prospective Congresspeople other than what was outlined in the Constitution. This ruling solidified the fact that for any sort of term limit, a constitutional amendment would be required.

There are several arguments for term limits that can easily be countered. For example, the group in the aforementioned Supreme Court case, U.S. Term Limits, argues that term limits allow our government to be run as was intended: by the people and for the people.

Although the group alleges that term limits would eliminate a “ruling class” among our elected officials, it’s clear that there are other ways to limit corruption in politics, like a ban on corporate funding, lobbying, or an overturn of Citizens United, which allows for Super PACs and dark money groups to influence policy. However, changing this would be a huge endeavor to take on, and I don’t believe that it’s possible in the near future.

The issue of term limits for Congress is complicated, almost to an unnecessary degree. Term limits are not a cure-all for the issues in our government, and could actually cause more harm than good. I understand the sentiment behind the push for term limits, but ultimately, I think that they would bring more confusion and distrust of Congress to the American people.

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