California Term Limits, Proposition 140 (1990)

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California Proposition 140, or the Limits on Terms of Office, Legislators' Retirement, Legislative Operating Costs Amendment, was one of 28 ballot measures on the California general election ballot in November 1990. It limited the number of terms that California state senators and representatives could stay in office. Members of the California State Assembly are limited to three two-year terms and members of the California State Senate to two four-year terms. It also imposes a lifelong ban against seeking the same office once the limits have been reached

Proposition 140 was on the same ballot as Proposition 131, which was supported by Ralph Nader. The two initiatives both had a term limits component and were seen as competing with each other.

Election results

Although it was outspent by a margin of more than 31-to-1,[1] Proposition 140 passed with 52.17% of the vote; 3,744,447 voters approved of it, and 3,432,666 voters rejected it.[2]

Proposition 140
Result Votes Percentage
Approveda Yes 3,744,447 52.17%
No 3,432,666 47.83%
Total votes 7,177,113 100.00%
Voter turnout NK%

Challenged in court

In the case of Bates v. Jones, former California Assemblyman Tom Bates and several of his constituents filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California seeking to have the court determine that the lifetime term limits in Prop. 140 violated their federal constitutional rights.

District Court Judge Claudia Wilken upheld the claim of Bates and enjoined California Secretary of State Bill Jones from enforcing the provisions of Proposition 140.[3] In Wilken's ruling, she agrees with the view of the plaintiffs that the voters were unaware that they were imposin a lifetime ban once the limits had been reached.

The National Tax Limitation Committee and Bill Jones appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. At the Ninth Circuit, a three-judge panel heard the appeal. Two of them upheld Wilken's ruling. At that time, a majority of the active judges of the Ninth Circuit vote to rehear the case. When the case was re-heard before the full circuit, Wilken's earlier verdict was overturned and the law went into effect.[4]

Fiscal impact

The fiscal estimate provided by the California Legislative Analyst's Office said:

  • The limitation on terms will have no fiscal effect.
  • The restrictions on the legislative retirement benefits would reduce state costs by approximately $750,000 a year.
  • To the extent that future legislators do not participate in the federal Social Security system, there would be unknown future savings to the state.
  • Legislative expenditures in 1991-92 would be reduced by about 38 percent, or $70 million.
  • In subsequent years, the measure would limit growth in these expenditures to the changes in the state's appropriations limit.

See also

External links


  1. Prop 45: turning California term limits - Case Study Campaigns & Elections, June, 2002
  2. 1990 California ballot measure votes
  3. Court voids California term limits Washington Post, October 8, 1997
  4. Text of Bates v. Jones