The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t vindicate Tom Foley when it struck down term limits for Congress, the man who defeated the former House speaker said Tuesday.
Monday’s 5-4 ruling that term limits require a constitutional amendment will move the issue to the top of the agenda in 1997, U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt predicted.
But term limit supporters will have to elect more candidates who share their views to get an amendment through Congress and out to the states, the Spokane Republican said.
Nethercutt ousted Foley last year in a close election - by about 3,900 votes out of 215,000 cast - and term limits was a major issue. Foley had joined a suit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s law in federal court. Nethercutt criticized that move, promising voters, “I would never sue you.”
Term limit groups spent $350,000 to defeat Foley.
“I think the lawsuit was a factor. I don’t think it was the factor,” said Nethercutt, who was much in demand Tuesday by national political reporters for a comment on the court’s decision.
“It’s not as if he’d still be in office if the court had ruled before the election,” he added.
On Monday, Foley said he doesn’t want to second-guess the election or spend time worrying about what would have made the difference of a few thousand votes.
Other Democrats had warned him against joining the suit. On Tuesday, some of them were saying his position was vindicated by the ruling.
“He was doing his job to defend the Constitution of the United States,” said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.
Nethercutt disagreed. Five justices said term limits are unconstitutional; four said they are not, he noted.
“I don’t think he’s at all vindicated by the court’s decision,” he said.
Because of the court’s ruling, term limits for Congress must pass by a two-thirds vote in each house, plus be ratified by at least 38 states. That lengthy process nearly guarantees term limits won’t be enacted before 1998.
Congress also may opt to give members of the House a limit of 12 years rather than Washington’s limit of six years.
Either way, Nethercutt won’t be forced out by law after six years. But he said he’ll hold to his campaign promise of not running more than three times for the House.
“I’d be willing to step down after that,” he said. “It’s not the only job I want to have for the rest of my life.”