Term Limits Amendment
A proposed amendment to the US Constitution that limits service in the federal judiciary and Congress.
Ends Lifetime Appointments of the judiciary
Places Limit on Personal Power in Congress
Acknowledges Original Intent to have Citizen Lawmakers, not Career Politicians
Rebalances Power among federal branches, since limits have been added to the executive branch by earlier amendment
Summary of the Amendment
Imposing Term Limits on the Judicial and Legislative Branches
The founders of our country were mindful of the dangers of a monarchy or other autocratic governmental structure, and worked hard to create a republic with power distributed among the three branches to guard against this threat. They sought to prevent officials from gaining too much political power; their concept was for citizens to answer the call to serve in government briefly and then return to civilian life. They felt that short tenure in office would preserve our hard-won personal freedoms.
Since this was their preferred model for government, it is surprising that they did not include limits on personal tenure in the Constitution. However, our early presidents, starting with George Washington, established a pattern when they voluntarily limited their service to two four-year terms. Since the president appoints all of the senior positions in the executive branch, this effectively limited those positions to tenures of not more than eight years.
But in 1932-1944, Franklin Roosevelt ignored this precedent and was elected to four terms. This created concern that a president could stay in power indefinitely, destroying the intended balance of power between the three branches of the federal government. Consequently, the People spoke and an amendment was ratified limiting presidents to two terms.
For a more vibrant and effective government, we must now also apply term limits to the judicial and legislative branches of the federal government. The increase in life spans over the years have made lifetime appointments of the judiciary inappropriate. Term limits on Congress would limit the personal power that may be built over a long tenure and would introduce fresh thinking into our body politic. Therefore, we favor an amendment providing for term limits for federal judges and members of Congress.
Summary of the Amendment
We support limiting each federal judge to a single long term (perhaps 16 years) for any one position. When the framers of the Constitution inserted life terms for judges, life expectancy was much shorter than it is today. The Supreme Court justices appointed in our first decade under the Constitution served for an average of eight years; today, the average is close to 25 years, and many judges remain in their positions for 30 years or more.
A single long term would preserve judicial independence, while reminding judges that they must eventually return to private life. Because most judges are appointed when they are in their 40s or 50s, the single long term would help prevent judges from continuing after old age prevented them from acting effectively. It could also encourage presidents to nominate mature individuals whose judicial views were established and well known, which would result in more predictable performance by new judges.
Our proposal for congressional term limits would impose a lifetime limit, such as 16 years, for service by an individual in Congress. We propose that rather than fixing maximum terms for the House and Senate individually, the amendment provide for a maximum for both chambers combined. For example, a 16-year maximum would allow an individual to serve eight terms in the House of Representatives, or five terms in the House and one in the Senate, or two in the House and two in the Senate. This would be more flexible and give voters more options than some other term limit proposals. When a term limit is reached, the member would finish out his current term before retiring.
Author: Frank Keeney
Revised August 25, 2021
Socialism or Freedom
The last 200 years have given us a ring-side seat at the workings of a number of different government forms. When we evaluate them, we do not need to rely on theory; we can observe the actual positive and negative results.