Constitutionality of Term Limits Debated in New Book

November/​December 1994 • Policy Report

The practicality and constitutionality of term limits arevigorously debated in a new book from the Cato Institute.ThePolitics and Law of Term Limits, edited by Edward H. Crane,president of the Cato Institute, and Roger Pilon, director ofCato’s Center for Constitutional Studies, is the definitive guideto the hottest political issue in recent years. Voters in 16states have already limited the terms of their members ofCongress. Eight more states have the question on the ballot thisNovember. The terms of state legislators and other officials havebeen limited in 16 states and hundreds of counties and cities,including New York and Los Angeles. In late November the SupremeCourt will hear oral argument in U.S.Term Limits v. Thornton,a case challenging the constitutionality of the Arkansasterm‐​limit initiative.

Contributors to The Politics and Law of Term Limits includetop names from the worlds of constitutional law, political science,and grassroots organizing: presidential adviser Lloyd N. Cutler;U.S. Term Limits executive director Paul Jacob; League of WomenVoters president Becky Cain; attorney John Kester, who will arguethe constitutionality of term limits before the Supreme Courtthis fall; constitutional law authority Ronald D. Rotunda; lawprofessor Daniel H. Lowenstein; and Thomas E. Mann, director ofthe Governmental Studies Program at the Brookings Institution.Syndicated columnist George Will provides an introduction, as doCrane and Pilon. “It is no overstatement to say,” writeCrane and Pilon, “that the term‐​limits movement¦a national,grassroots effort to limit the terms of elected officials at alllevels of government¦is emerging as one of the most importantdevelopments in this nation in a very long time.… Term limitsspeaks in fundamental ways to the question of how we will governourselves. Although the political establishment has often beenslow, for understandable reasons, to acknowledge the movement, itcan be ignored no longer.”

“Term limits,” adds Will, “have come to remedywhat ails government.”

Arguing for the political wisdom of term limits are Jacob andPetracca, who say that term limits would end the careerism that underminesrepresentative government. They are opposed by Cain and Mann, whocounter that the real problems cited by advocates of term limitswould not be solved by such limits. Kester and Rotunda set forththeir cases for the constitutionality of term limits; they pointout that the Constitution does not prohibit the states fromlimiting terms and in fact empowers the states to regulate the“time, place, and manner” of elections. Cutler andLowenstein rebut that argument by noting that since theConstitution specifies qualifications for members of Congress,the states cannot enact more onerous standards.

The book received enthusiastic prepublication praise.Constitutional authority Floyd Abrams said that “as thedesirability and constitutionality of term limits becomeincreasing central, the need for a volume that sets forth bothsides¦all sides¦of the debate becomes all the more pressing.ThePolitics and Law of Term Limits does just that. Here, in oneplace, are powerful arguments pro and con rooted in history,philosophy, politics, and law. The book is an indispensablecollection of diverse views on one of the most intellectuallychallenging and pragmatically significant issues of ourtime.”

Governor William F. Weld of Massachusetts said, “This is amind‐​expanding treatment of a fascinating public policy issue. Youfeel as though you’re watching a fifteen‐​round fight where bothcombatants are knocked to the canvas, but somebody’s eventuallygoing to win.”

Pete du Pont of the National Center for Policy Analysis called itthe “best discussion of an issue whose time has clearlycome.”