U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton

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U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 was a 1995 case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against U.S. Term Limits in a decision that states cannot impose qualifications for prospective members of Congress stricter than those specified in the Constitution. The decision invalidated the Congressional term limits provisions of 23 states.

Background and prior history

Constitutional amendment 73 to Arkansas's state constitution denied ballot access to any United States Congressional candidate having already served three terms in the U.S. House or two terms in the U.S. Senate.

Soon after the amendment's adoption by ballot measure at the general election on November 3, 1992, Bobbie Hill, a member of the League of Women Voters, sued in state court to have it judicially invalidated. She alleged that the new restrictions amounted to an unwarranted expansion of the specific qualifications for membership in Congress enumerated in the United States Constitution:

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen,

and:

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen (Article I, section 2).

Both the trial court and the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with Hill, declaring Amendment 73 unconstitutional.

Supreme Court decision

The Supreme Court affirmed by a 5-4 vote. The majority and minority articulated different views of the character of the federal structure established in the Constitution. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens noted that sustaining Amendment 73 would result in "a patchwork of state qualifications" for U.S. Representatives, and described that consequence as inconsistent with "the uniformity and national character that the framers sought to insure." Concurring, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the amendment would "interfere" with the "relationship between the people of the Nation and their National Government." Justice Clarence Thomas, in dissent, countered that the Constitution's authority depends on "the consent of the people of each individual State, not the consent of the undifferentiated people of the Nation as a whole," and argued that on the question of whether the qualifications clause is exclusive, "The Constitution is simply silent...And where the Constitution is silent, it raises no bar to action by the States or the people."

The American Civil Liberties Union participated in the trial as an amicus curiae, urging it to uphold the Arkansas Supreme Court's decision; thus, the case is viewed by some as a political victory for the ACLU.

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Portions of this article have been adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Copyright Notice can be found here.