The Supreme Court’s rejection of state-imposed federal term limits, coming on the heels of the House’s defeat of a constitutional amendment to impose limits on members of Congress, leaves advocates of such change with only one likely alternative:
Elect a more sympathetic Congress.
Term limit proponents pledge to make it a major issue in the 1996 election, and say that their twin defeats in Congress and the court this year will galvanize their troops.
“The term limits movement will be reinvigorated,” said Eddie Mahe Jr., a Republican political consultant. “Those people who voted against term limits will have a lot of explaining to do.”
But opponents say the decisive court ruling is the death knell for term limits.
“No one’s driven a stake through its heart yet, but I don’t expect it to be a major issue,” said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.
It is not clear how potent a political issue term limits will be in an election likely to be dominated by presidential politics and by a referendum on the changes wrought by the GOP Congress.
The result is an uncertain future for the issue, which was one of the most popular pledges in the GOP’s “Contract With America.” Polls show stratospheric levels of support for term limits, and 23 states have adopted them for their representatives.
But despite that popularity, the House in March rejected by wide margins four different constitutional amendments to limit congressional terms. Even the proposal that came closest to passing fell 63 votes short of the 290 votes - a two-thirds majority- needed to adopt a constitutional amendment.
Republicans are hoping to turn the term limits issue to their partisan advantage because more Democrats than Republicans voted against the constitutional amendment. Seeking to pin blame on the Democrats, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has said that the term limits constitutional amendment will be the first bill introduced in the next Congress if the GOP retains control.
The Senate is still planning to vote on term limits, possibly before Congress begins its August recess. But Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., a leading advocate of term limits, conceded Monday that he lacks the votes to pass a constitutional amendment.
About the only other alternative for the term limit movement is to call for a constitutional convention. That can be done if twothirds of the states petition Congress for a convention to consider amendments to the Constitution. But that has never happened, and term limits advocates so far have not seriously entertained it.