1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.
Robert Longley

Why No Term Limits for Congress? The Constitution

By January 30, 2013

Follow me on:

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."

Also See:
House to Be In Session Only 126 Days in 2013
Congress Took it Really Slow in 2011


February 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm
(1) jean Daniel says:

It may be true that you can not enact term limits of congress and senate, but as a voter, I can instill term limits with my vote. If enough of us vote against all these congressmen and senators that have 8 years or more in office we can put them out. We do not need term limits on paper, our vote is their term limit.
It is time for the people to take their country back. When senator Reed went into office back in the stone age, he was almost broke, now he is a millionire. What does that tell you about holding office. Want to be rich, run for office in congress or the senate, you can give yourself and the others your own raises and the people can do nothing about it, EXCEPT, VOTE OUT THE OLD GUYS, they are not there for you, just themselves.
Thank you.

February 6, 2013 at 1:52 am
(2) K J Kadziauskas says:

What does the Constitution say about a mandatory retirement age like many other agencies?

February 6, 2013 at 5:37 am
(3) usgovinfo says:

The Constitution does not deal with federal employees in any way. You can read the Constitution at:


Robert Longley

February 9, 2013 at 9:58 am
(4) Helen says:

When have you seen anyone over 70 working in an extreemely important position & be on top of his game ? There are’nt many that
would;nt be forced into retirement. W e might have more work for
our college grads!!!! House & Senate members have both been caught
sleeping! They seem to forget who the President is and they hold
the country in limbo, because they cant playtogether! Who wouldnt love
any of their paychecks for such little time worked! They are the one;s
who could put us in the BLack agani!

February 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm
(5) Rick says:

Term limits are the only hope of getting this country back moving in a positive direction. As long as congress is more concerned about re-election and campaign funds, they will never make the hard decisions that are necessary during these critical times. We need leadership not political party squabbling.

July 31, 2013 at 1:38 pm
(6) Darth Dudicle says:

When you have as much time on your hands as some of these clowns, It creates an environment where problems are created and or fabricated. Their primary concern is to get re elected and secondary is to represent the people. I have a serious problem with this. Part of being a good leader (many people look upon these people as leaders) is to make sacrifices and essential “pay” for what you believe in, be it popular or not. To see our current congress take advantage of nuance issues for re election is shameful to anyone who takes their patriotism seriously. Whether it be gun control, abortion, or religion; these issues are not essential to the functioning of this country and should be addressed last if at all (states rights). Congress cant even pass a budget but have time to lobby. Its time for term limits.

August 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm
(7) NashvilleKit says:

I have pushed for a term limit amendment for many years. The comment above is that we do have term limits – we can just vote them out. The naivete shown in that comment is laughable. The fact is incumbents build up huge warchests of campaign funds while in office that makes it virtually impossible for anyone to unseat them unless they get caught in a scandal. Even then, many have been reelected!

We must pass such an amendment like this one.

October 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm
(8) Vic DeMartin says:

Term Limits can be done via a Constitutional Amendment. The problem is, such a change must come through those who have gained so much by the present system (Congress). The push must come from a united people by votes and effort. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening due to voter apathy and entitlement attitude .

December 4, 2013 at 1:34 pm
(9) Mary says:

To long in office, getting richer and having so much power. Soon they lose touch with what the average American needs. This country belongs to the people and big politicians that have been there to long begins to think only of themselves and their special interest. We need voices that stay in touch with what the people need and want. Our voice is not being heard. So yes to term limits. Public office should not be someone’s gold mine.

January 7, 2014 at 11:01 am
(10) paul says:

I hope they add the word “consecutive” to the amendment…if the person holding office is the best, it doesn’t seem right that s/he can never have an opportunity to hold office.

February 17, 2014 at 10:13 am
(11) Nik says:

Term limits are WRONG! If we want to keep members of Congress from having to campaign constantly, we need to pass a Constitutional Amendment indicating corporations are not people, and money is not speech. They are flooding our government with lobbyists and money to influence who is electable, causing our politicians to need to constantly search for funding to stay elected. If they only focus on their goals, they won’t be re-elected and their goals will be less likely to succeed.

Term limits are how transnational corporations keep their interests in the spotlight. If you want to keep your representatives focused on what you want, you need a Constitutional Amendment to keep the transnational corporations and banksters out of our election process!

March 18, 2014 at 9:33 am
(12) Joyce Bailey says:

If the world was in the shape that it is today, I’ll bet Madison & fellow workers would not have rejected term limits for congress! Why should they be able to serve more years than our president? I’m sure they were not as big of crooks in 1787 as they are NOW!

April 19, 2014 at 11:00 pm
(13) Howard Satterfield says:

The system has been rigged by rich boys club and the Federal Judges write laws and twist words to maintain the status quo.

Gov;t by the people not the people for the gov;t.

Americans need to stand together and vote all incumbents out. We
won’t be perfect but we would be collectively better than the representatives we have today. They are fleecing Americans fro their own greed. Look who got Pelosi, Reid, Boehner, Cummings .
ollective bunch.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.