Term limits in the United States
Federal term limits
The Twenty-Second Amendment to the United States Constitution says that no person can be elected President of the United States more than twice. Term limits are a particularly important issue in the United States.
President George Washington originally started the tradition of informal Presidential term limits by refusing to run for a third term. The short-lived Confederate States of America adopted a six-year term for their President and Vice-President, and barred the President from seeking re-election. This innovation was endorsed by many American politicians after the war, most notably by Rutherford B. Hayes in his inaugural address. Hayes' proposal did not come to fruition, but the government of Mexico adopted the Confederate term and limit for its federal President. Franklin Roosevelt was the first and only President to successfully break Washington's tradition, and he died in office while serving his fourth term.
Congressional term limits were featured prominently in the Republican Party's Contract with America in the United States House 1994 election campaign, and may well have contributed to the so-called "Republican Revolution," as the Republicans wrested control of the United States House of Representatives from the Democratic Party for the first time since the United States 1952 elections. The Republican leadership brought to the floor of the House a constitutional amendment that would limit House members to six two-year terms and members of the Senate to two six-year terms. However, this amendment did not gain the approval of U.S. Term Limits, the largest private organization pushing for Congressional term limits. (U.S. Term Limits wanted House members to be limited to three two-year terms.) With the Republicans holding 230 seats in the House, the amendment did receive a simple majority in the House. However, a two-thirds majority (290 votes) is required to pass a constitutional amendment, and thus the bill failed. The concept subsequently lost momentum by the mid 1990s.
Currently, term limits at the federal level are restricted to the executive branch and some agencies. The U.S. Congress, however, remains without electoral limits.
State term limits
Term limits for state governors or others within the state executive branch and other high constitutional offices have existed since the beginning of the United States. One of the first such limits of its kind, the Delaware Constitution of 1776, limited the Governor of Delaware to a single three-year term; currently, the governor of Delaware can serve two 4-year terms. As of present, there are 36 states have adopted term limits of various types for their governors. One variation allowed a governor to be re-elected, but only to non-consecutive terms. (To circumvent this provision, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, announced in 1966 that voters should elect his wife, Lurleen Wallace, their next governor. It was clear during the campaign that Mrs. Wallace would be a governor in name only, and thus she was elected the first female governor of Alabama.)
Beginning in the 1990s, term limit laws were imposed on twenty state legislatures through either successful ballot measures, referenda, legislative acts, or state constitutional changes. The Maine legislature was the first state to enact legislative term limits in 1993.
Since 1997, however, six state legislatures have either overturned their own limits or state supreme courts have ruled such limits unconstitutional. In 2002 the Idaho Legislature became the first legislature of its kind to repeal its own term limits, enacted by a public vote in 1994, ostensibly because it applied to local officials along with the legislature.
State legislatures with term limits
The following 15 legislatures have term limits:
- Arizona Legislature: four two-year terms for both houses (eight years).
- Arkansas General Assembly: three two-year terms for House members (six years) and two four-year terms for Senate members (eight years).
- California State Legislature: three two-year terms for Assembly members (six years) and two four-year terms for Senate members (eight years).
- Colorado General Assembly: four consecutive two-year terms in the House (eight years) and two consecutive four-year terms in the Senate (eight years).
- Florida Legislature: may serve no more than eight years in either house.
- Louisiana State Legislature: three four-year terms for both houses (twelve years).
- Maine Legislature: four two-year terms for both houses (eight years).
- Michigan Legislature: three two-year terms for House members (six years) and two four-year terms for Senate members (eight years).
- Missouri General Assembly: four consecutive two-year terms for House members (eight years) and two four-year consecutive terms for Senate members (eight years). Members may be elected again to the other house, but not serve more than 16 years.
- Montana State Legislature: four two-year terms for House members (eight years) in any sixteen year period and two four-year terms for Senate members (eight years) in any sixteen year period.
- Nebraska Legislature: two four-year terms (eight years).
- Nevada Legislature: six two-year terms for Assembly members (twelve years) and three four-year terms for Senate members (twelve years).
- Ohio General Assembly: four consecutive two-year terms for House members (eight years) and two consecutive four-year terms for Senate members (eight years).
- Oklahoma Legislature: six two-year terms for House members (twelve years) and three four-year terms for Senate members (twelve years).
- South Dakota Legislature: four two-year terms for both houses (eight years).
Overturned state legislative term limits
The following six legislatures have had their term limits nullified:
- Idaho Legislature: the Legislature repealed its own term limits in 2002.
- Massachusetts General Court: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned term limits in 1997.
- Oregon Legislative Assembly: the Oregon Supreme Court ruled term limits unconstitutional in 2002.
- Utah State Legislature: the Legislature repealed its own term limits in 2003.
- Washington State Legislature: the Washington Supreme Court voided term limits in 1998.
- Wyoming Legislature: the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled term limits unconstitutional in 2004.
Municipal term limits
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the mayor cannot be elected 3 consecutive times, but there is no limit on how long any individual can serve as mayor. Frank Rizzo was elected mayor there in 1971 and 1975, then tried and failed to get the 3-consecutive ban overturned, so could not run for that office in 1979.