The Issue of Term Limits

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The issue of term limits, particularly in the context of federal legislators, has over the years been a contentious issue and has been subject to various debates. The crux of the matter is premised on the challenges surrounding the amendment of the constitution to accommodate this issue. In a bid to put it into perspective, Article V of the Constitution provides for the manner in which the constitution can be amendment (Rotunda et al., 1996). Thorough scrutiny and subsequent comprehension of this constitutional provision reveal the high threshold that needs to be met before any constitutional amendment can be made in the United States (Rotunda et al., 1996). In light of the foregoing, this paper seeks to reflect how our organization will accomplish its objective of amending the US Constitution in a bid to impose term limits on members of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Amending US Constitution versus Passing a Law

The first reason why amending the constitution would be necessary instead of passing legislation is premised on the fact that the Constitution unequivocally provides for a prescribed form of altering its provisions. Since the Constitution specifies that federal legislators can enjoy unlimited terms, the only way measure that our organization can resort to is pushing for a constitutional amendment as prescribed in Article V of the US Constitution. The second reason why amending the constitution is the preferred option is based on the fact that passing a law to impose the term limits does not suffice as an appropriate measure to impose the term limits and would be rendered unconstitutional. In the case of United States Term Limits v. Thornton 115 S. Ct. 1842 (1995), the attempts made by the State of Arkansas to pass a statute that imposed term limits on the federal legislators was rendered unconstitutional. The ratio decidendi in the case was that permitting states to impose term limits for members of the Congress will, in essence, alter the constitution and Article V prescribes the manner in which such amendments can be effected.

Furthermore in the case of Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), the Supreme Court found that the statutory provision that that Marbury was relying on was unconstitutional. The said provision, Section 13 of the Judiciary Act, was partially invalidated for attempting to extend the powers of the Supreme Court yet the same had not been envisaged by the Constitution (Warren, 2011). Therefore relying on the Marbury determination, passing a law would be tantamount to contravening the constitution.  

Cannons of Construction and Interpretation

In line with the Cannons of Construction and Interpretation, there are three elements that we would have to consider in drafting the constitutional amendment. The first element is ensuring that the amendment is written in ordinary English so that is can be interpreted using its plain meaning. The Supreme Court clearly articulated this element in the case of Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470 (1917) where the court held that the language of the statute ought to be plain and clear. The second element that we would need to consider is ensuring that we abide by the ejusdem generis rule. This rule prescribes that where we have a list of two or more descriptors that is accompanied by a general descriptor, it will be assumed that the general descriptor is of the same nature. The last element that we would need to abide by is ensuring that the text of the amendment is not ambiguous. Making sure that the amendment is unambiguous will not subject it to the in pari materia canon.

Paths to Pursue in Constitutional Amendment

Article V of the Constitution prescribes the various methods that one can utilize to amend the constitution. The first path that Article V provides is through Congress. Under this method, an amendment can only be proposed after a threshold of two-thirds of both houses pass the necessary resolution and forward the proposed amendments for ratification in the States. The second method is through the states. Under this path, Article V provides that two-thirds of the states need to apply to Congress which will, in turn, be required to call a convention.

Three Branches of the Government

The system of government in the United States is premised on the doctrine of separation of powers and contains three arms of government. The first arm is the Legislature or the Congress which comprises of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress is tasked with making laws and other policies on behalf of the public. This amendment will put to an end the unlimited six-year and two-year terms that the Senators and the Representatives enjoy respectively. The second branch of the government is the Executive or the Presidency. The executive comprises of the president, vice president, cabinet and other federal agencies and departments. This is the arm of the government that is tasked with implementing the laws that have been made by Congress and administration of the country. The constitutional amendment will limit the unlimited four-year terms that the vice president enjoys. The last branch of government is the Judicature or the Judiciary. This arm comprises of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. The Chief Justice heads the Judicial branch, and the central role of this arm is the interpretation of laws and adjudicating cases. The constitutional amendment will put specific terms for the justices serving in the judiciary who enjoy unlimited terms.


List of Cases

Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470 (1917).

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803).

United States Term Limits v. Thornton 115 S. Ct. 1842 (1995).

List of Statutes

United States Constitution, Article V.

List of Books and Articles

Rotunda, R. D., & Safranek, S. J. (1996). An Essay on Term Limits and a Call for a

Constitutional Convention. Marq. L. Rev., 80, 227.

Warren, C. (2011). The Supreme Court in United States History (Vol. 1). Cosimo, Inc.

December 12, 2023

Government Law

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