Term Limits and Pandora’s Box

February 7th, 2010

By Larry Ennis

I think term limits are needed if we are to ever break up the logjam in national politics. However, the only recourse is to amend our Constitution. Such an action is very controversial. The chance of having something be made worse and not better is a genuine concern.

Everyone knows or should know that the 22nd Amendment prohibits the president from running for a third term. Why should the House and Senate be any different?

Far too many of these so-called public servants spend too much time serving themselves. The Congress turns out a great many more millionaires than it takes in. The man on the street has little hope of becoming a senator, congressman, or president. Term limits would open up the game for John Doe or his sons. However, opponents of term limits are going to take the position that the idea violates a person’s right to run for public office.

For people such as myself, the thought of tampering with the Constitution sends up too many red flags. As it stands now, if the right to run for office is guaranteed, the 22nd Amendment bars the President from exercising his right to run for a third term.

While trying to learn more on this subject I found an article published by the Cato Institute which is several years old, but its message is still in tune with the present.

I knew that term limits had already been ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed it was, in 1995. In U.S. Term Limits vs Thornton the Court ruled against preventing a person from running for office more than twice.

People trying to get term limits into law argue that the framers of the Constitution did not consider the chance that certain citizens would try to hold office for life. History tells us that being an elected official was totally different during their era. No fine offices, no Gulfstream airplanes, no paved roads, no air conditioning, and very little pay. There is, however, a real pitfall lurking just below the surface. Any time you want to use the claim that times have changed, you open the door to the argument that the entire Constitution and the Bill of Rights is outdated. There are people who say that we should update both documents. Their argument is grounded in the notion that a document 200-plus years old has no place in modern times.  

I’m for leaving the Constitution and Bill of Rights just as they are. Both have served this nation since its inception. Without a doubt they are the best set of guidelines and laws ever written. Any attempts to change the Constitution or Bill of Rights will run the chance of opening a modern-day Pandora’s Box.


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5 Responses to “Term Limits and Pandora’s Box”



  1. Tom |

    I agree with you on both points — term limits for members of Congress would probably be a good thing, and amending the Constitution should be undertaken very rarely and with great caution.

    However, the law of unintended consequences always looms. Just like other constitutional amendments that are periodically popular ideas, such as changing the electoral college and the 17th Amendment, it’s hard to know what the results would be. The fact is, term limits for Congress might create more problems than they solve — but by the time we find that out, it would be too late.


  2. Brianna |

    Larry – there is a problem with your argument. Yes, the Supreme Court in 1995 declared term limits unconstitutional. But the 22nd amendment is exactly that – a term limit. I used to think that the existence of the 22nd amendment was a little odd… after all, it wasn’t as though FDR hadn’t won his elections legitimately each time. But after I learned a little more about FDR, I realized just how necessary the 22nd amendment had been, and how understandable it was that the amendment was added right after FDR’s presidency.

    So either we have to admit that the 22nd amendment to the Constitution is itself unConstitutional… or we have to admit that there is no Constitutional issue with term limits. As for my own opinion… the longer I look at our “political class,” the more essential I think term limits are.

    “There is, however, a real pitfall lurking just below the surface. Any time you want to use the claim that times have changed, you open the door to the argument that the entire Constitution and the Bill of Rights is outdated. There are people who say that we should update both documents. Their argument is grounded in the notion that a document 200-plus years old has no place in modern times. ”

    I disagree with this argument for two reasons. One, the Founders knew they were not perfect and that changes might have to be made to their work, which is why they provided for the amendment process in the first place. And two, surely the document that survived the disbandment of slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and the institution of women’s rights, as well as the document that has provided the best system of governance and the greatest nation the world has ever seen, could not be legitimately argued to have become obsolete over the simple fact that the attitude of those taking political office had changed since the Founders’ day.


  3. Bob Nelson |

    I’m not against term limits — they would be an improvement over the present situation. But I wonder if there aren’t some better solutions.

    The problems of the two Houses of Congress are not at all the same.

    The Senate is castrated by its rules, notably the filibuster. Any “democratic institution” where 41 is stronger than 59… is not democratic.

    The House has two inter-related problems. The two-year term is too short, putting Representatives permanently on campaign. Their principal answer has been to create decidedly un-democratic “safe seats” through Gerrymandering.

    The problems aren’t the same, so the solutions probably aren’t either.

    Personally, I’d like to see:
    Redistricting via a computer “optimization” program, outside politicians’ control,Suppression of the Senate. Originally, the Senators imagined that the Senate, with only 26 members way back then, would function as a sort of shadow cabinet. Ooops!!The Senate, as it operates today, is useless,In order to maintain a minimum of power for small states, I would create 100 “State-wide Representatives” in addition to the current 435 “District Representatives”, elected from their computer-optimized districts,All Representatives would have a four-year term, with half elected at the same time as the President, and half elected in mid-terms. If term limits are to be imposed, my opinion would be four terms (sixteen years) maximum — long enough to accomplish a lot, with a relatively short lame-duck period… but not “elected for life”!


  4. Bob Nelson |

    Oh!!

    The HTML that seemed to work in “live preview” didn’t work at all when I “published”. That makes it pretty ugly to read! Here’s a repeat from “Personally I’d like to see:”

    Personally, I’d like to see:

    – Redistricting via a computer “optimization” program, outside politicians’ control,

    – Suppression of the Senate. Originally, the Senators imagined that the Senate, with only 26 members way back then, would function as a sort of shadow cabinet. Ooops!!
    The Senate, as it operates today, is useless,

    – In order to maintain a minimum of power for small states, I would create 100 “State-wide Representatives” in addition to the current 435 “District Representatives”, elected from their computer-optimized districts,

    – All Representatives would have a four-year term, with half elected at the same time as the President, and half elected in mid-terms.
    If term limits are to be imposed, my opinion would be four terms (sixteen years) maximum — long enough to accomplish a lot, with a relatively short lame-duck period… but not “elected for life”!


  5. Tom |

    Bob, I think your ideas are good. But we still face the problem of amending the Constitution to make all that (or something similar) happen, and I have serious concerns that the law of unintended consequences would smack us in the face. We could live with the present system if the voters would throw some of these bums out and demand higher standards of those they permit to stay in office. Motivating the people to do that is probably easier than amending the Constitution, to be practical about it.

    Brianna, the term limit on presidents only is constitutional because it’s now part of the Constitution, via the 22nd Amendment.


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