arrowSection 2.1 - Term Limits

This topic is monitored by Moritz Law Professor Steven F. Huefner

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An Overview of Recent Developments

For certain elected offices, including President of the United States, prior service will disqualify a person from serving additional terms in that office. For instance, since 1951, the twenty-second amendment to the United States Constitution has prohibited the same person from being elected President more than twice. Similarly, a number of state and local offices around the country have for many years had limitations on the number of terms that any one person could serve. Only in the early 1990s, however, did some states seek to impose term limits on members of their state legislatures, as well as on their states' U.S. Senators and Representatives.

Specifically, since 1990 two dozen states have adopted some type of term limits on either their state legislatures or their delegations to Congress. Most of these legislative term limits measures were adopted through the popular initiative process as amendments to state constitutions. In the 1995 case of U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, the U.S. Supreme Court held that state efforts to impose limits on congressional terms violated the U.S. Constitution. This decision does not apply to state legislative offices, although a few state courts have similarly ruled that their legislative term limits measures violate the state's constitution. In addition, the legislatures of two states - Idaho and Utah - have now repealed their states' statutory term limits measures.

As a result, today fifteen of the twenty-one states that adopted some form of state legislative term limits in the 1990s continue to have term limits measures in effect. These measures vary in such important details as the number of years that they permit a legislator to serve and whether the limit operates as a lifetime ban or merely requires a break in service before a former legislator can run again. For a summary of these measures, click here.

Legislative term limits were adopted in hopes that regularly kicking incumbent legislators out of office would produce a group of legislators who were more representative of the citizenry, more responsive to constituent concerns, and less beholden to special interests. Opponents worried that the resulting loss of institutional expertise would hurt legislatures as institutions and harm their ability to function. Although it is still too early to pass judgment on the success of legislative term limits, a number of studies of their actual effects are now underway. One such effort, coordinated by the National Conference of State Legislatures, is described at http://www.ncsl.org/programs/legman/about/jtproject.htm.

The impact of Ohio's legislative term limits on the ability of specific members of the 125th Ohio General Assembly to seek reelection in November 2004 is summarized here.