Whenever Congress makes people really mad, which seems to be most of the time lately; the call goes up for our national lawmakers to face term limits. I mean the president is limited to two terms, so term limits for members of Congress seem reasonable. There's just one thing in the way: the U.S. Constitution.
There have been congressional term limits. If fact, U.S. Senators and Representatives from 23 states faced term limits from 1990 to 1995, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional with its decision in the case of U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton.
In a 5-4 majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not impose congressional term limits, because the Constitution simply did not grant them the power to do so. (Also see: National Powers vs. State Powers)
In his majority opinion, Justice Stevens noted that allowing the states to impose term limits would result in "a patchwork of state qualifications" for members of the U.S. Congress, a situation he suggested would be inconsistent with "the uniformity and national character that the framers sought to ensure." In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that state-specific term limits would jeopardize the "relationship between the people of the Nation and their National Government."
The framers - people who wrote the Constitution - did in fact consider and reject the idea of congressional term limits. In Federalist Papers No. 53, James Madison, father of the Constitution, explained why the Constitutional Convention of 1787 rejected term limits.
"[A] few of the members of Congress will possess superior talents; will by frequent re-elections, become members of long standing; will be thoroughly masters of the public business, and perhaps not unwilling to avail themselves of those advantages. The greater the proportion of new members of Congress, and the less the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt they be to fall into the snares that may be laid before them," wrote Madison. (Also see: The Complete Federalist Papers)
So, the only way to impose term limits on Congress is to amend the Constitution, which is exactly what two current members of Congress are trying to do, according to About Guide to U.S. Politics Tom Murse.
In his recent article, New Push For Term Limits In Congress, Murse suggests that Republican Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and David Vitter of Louisiana may just be "milking an idea that would be popular among a broad segment of the population," by proposing a congressional term limits constitutional amendment they know has little, if any chance of being enacted.
As Murse points out, the term limits proposed by Sens. Toomey and Vitter are very similar to those in that universally forwarded email rant demanding passage of a mythical "Congressional Reform Act."
There is, however, one big difference. As Murse says, "The mythical Congressional Reform Act probably has a better shot at becoming law."