514 U.S. 779 (1995), 93-1456, U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton

Docket Nº:No. 93-1456
Citation:514 U.S. 779, 115 S.Ct. 1842, 131 L.Ed.2d 881, 63 U.S.L.W. 4413
Party Name:U.S. TERM LIMITS, INC., et al. v. THORNTON et al.
Case Date:May 22, 1995
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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514 U.S. 779 (1995)

115 S.Ct. 1842, 131 L.Ed.2d 881, 63 U.S.L.W. 4413

U.S. TERM LIMITS, INC., et al.

v.

THORNTON et al.

No. 93-1456

United States Supreme Court

May 22, 1995[*]

Argued November 29, 1994

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS

Syllabus

Respondent Hill filed this suit in Arkansas state court challenging the constitutionality of § 3 of Amendment 73 to the Arkansas Constitution, which prohibits the name of an otherwise-eligible candidate for Congress from appearing on the general election ballot if that candidate has already served three terms in the House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate. The trial court held that § 3 violated Article I of the Federal Constitution, and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. A plurality of the latter court concluded that the States have no authority "to change, add to, or diminish" the age, citizenship, and residency requirements for congressional service enumerated in the Qualifications Clauses, U.S. Const., Art. I, § 2, cl. 2, and Art. I, § 3, cl. 3, and rejected the argument that Amendment 73 is constitutional because it is formulated as a ballot access restriction rather than an outright disqualification of congressional incumbents.

Held:

Section 3 of Amendment 73 to the Arkansas Constitution violates the Federal Constitution. Pp. 787-838.

(a) The power granted to each House of Congress to judge the "Qualifications of its own Members," Art. I, § 5, cl. 1, does not include the power to alter or add to the qualifications set forth in the Constitution's text. Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 540. After examining Powell's analysis of the Qualifications Clauses' history and text, id., at 518-548, and its articulation of the "basic principles of our democratic system," id., at 548, this Court reaffirms that the constitutional qualifications for congressional service are "fixed," at least in the sense that they may not be supplemented by Congress. Pp. 787-798.

(b) So too, the Constitution prohibits States from imposing congressional qualifications additional to those specifically enumerated in its text. Petitioners' argument that States possess control over qualifications as part of the original powers reserved to them by the Tenth Amendment is rejected for two reasons. First, the power to add qualifications is not within the States' pre-Tenth Amendment "original powers," but is a new right arising from the Constitution itself, and thus is

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not reserved. Second, even if the States possessed some original power in this area, it must be concluded that the Framers intended the Constitution to be the exclusive source of qualifications for Members of Congress, and that the Framers thereby "divested" States of any power to add qualifications. That this is so is demonstrated by the unanimity among the courts and learned commentators who have considered the issue; by the Constitution's structure and the text of pertinent constitutional provisions, including Art. I, § 2, cl. 1, Art. I, § 4, cl. 1, Art. I, § 6, and Art. I, § 5, cl. 1; by the relevant historical materials, including the records of the Constitutional Convention and the ratification debates, as well as Congress' subsequent experience with state attempts to impose qualifications; and, most importantly, by the "fundamental principle of our representative democracy . . . 'that the people should choose whom they please to govern them,' " Powell, 395 U.S., at 547. Permitting individual States to formulate diverse qualifications for their congressional representatives would result in a patchwork that would be inconsistent with the Framers' vision of a uniform National Legislature representing the people of the United States. The fact that, immediately after the adoption of the Constitution, many States imposed term limits and other qualifications on state officers, while only one State imposed such a qualification on Members of Congress, provides further persuasive evidence of a general understanding that the qualifications in the Constitution were unalterable by the States. Pp. 798-827.

(c) A state congressional term limits measure is unconstitutional when it has the likely effect of handicapping a class of candidates and has the sole purpose of creating additional qualifications indirectly. The Court rejects petitioners' argument that Amendment 73 is valid because it merely precludes certain congressional candidates from being certified and having their names appear on the ballot, and allows them to run as write-in candidates and serve if elected. Even if petitioners' narrow understanding of qualifications is correct, Amendment 73 must fall because it is an indirect attempt to evade the Qualifications Clauses' requirements and trivializes the basic democratic principles underlying those Clauses. Nor can the Court agree with petitioners' related argument that Amendment 73 is a permissible exercise of state power under the Elections Clause, Art. I, § 4, cl. 1, to regulate the "Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections." A necessary consequence of that argument is that Congress itself would have the power under the Elections Clause to "make or alter" a measure such as Amendment 73, a result that is unfathomable under Powell. Moreover, petitioners' broad construction is fundamentally inconsistent with the Framers' view of the Elections Clause, which was intended to grant States authority to protect the integrity and regularity of the election process by regulating

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election procedures, see, e.g., Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730, 733, not to provide them with license to impose substantive qualifications that would exclude classes of candidates from federal office. Pp. 828-836.

(d) State imposition of term limits for congressional service would effect such a fundamental change in the constitutional framework that it must come through a constitutional amendment properly passed under the procedures set forth in Article V. Absent such an amendment, allowing individual States to craft their own congressional qualifications would erode the structure designed by the Framers to form a "more perfect Union." Pp. 837-838.

316 Ark. 251, 872 S.W.2d 349, affirmed.

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 838. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor and Scalia, JJ., joined, post, p. 845.

J. Winston Bryant, Attorney General of Arkansas, pro se, argued the cause for petitioner in No. 93-1828. With him on the briefs were Jeffrey A. Bell, Deputy Attorney General, Ann Purvis and David R. Raupp, Assistant Attorneys General, Griffin B. Bell, Paul J. Larkin, Jr., Richard F. Hatfield, and Cleta Deatherage Mitchell. John G. Kester argued the cause for petitioners in No. 93-1456. With him on the briefs was H. William Allen. Robert H. Bork, Theodore B. Olson, and Thomas G. Hungar filed briefs for Representative Jay Dickey et al., and Edward W. Warren filed briefs for the Republican Party of Arkansas et al., as respondents under this Court's Rule 12.4.

Louis R. Cohen argued the cause for respondents in both cases. With him on the brief for respondents in No. 93-1828 were W. Hardy Callcott, Peter B. Hutt II, and Elizabeth J. Robben. Henry Maurice Mitchell, Sherry P. Bartley, RexE. Lee, Carter G. Phillips, Ronald S. Flagg, Mark D. Hopson, Joseph R. Guerra, and Jeffrey T. Green filed a brief for respondent Thornton in No. 93-1456.

Solicitor General Days argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on

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the brief were Assistant Attorneys General Dellinger and Hunger, Deputy Solicitor General Bender, Paul R. Q. Wolfson, and Douglas N. Letter.[†]

Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Constitution sets forth qualifications for membership in the Congress of the United States. Article I, § 2, cl. 2, which applies to the House of Representatives, provides:

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"No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen."

Article I, § 3, cl. 3, which applies to the Senate, similarly provides:

"No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen."

Today's cases present a challenge to an amendment to the Arkansas State Constitution that prohibits the name of an otherwise-eligible candidate for Congress from appearing on the general election ballot if that candidate has already served three terms in the House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the amendment violates the Federal Constitution. We agree with that holding. Such a state-imposed restriction is contrary to the "fundamental principle of our representative democracy," embodied in the Constitution, that "the people should choose whom they please to govern them." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 547 (1969) (internal quotation marks omitted). Allowing individual States to adopt their own qualifications for congressional service would be inconsistent with the Framers' vision of a uniform National Legislature representing the people of the United States. If the qualifications set forth in the text of the Constitution are to be changed, that text must be amended.

I

At the general election on November 3, 1992, the voters of Arkansas adopted Amendment 73 to their State Constitution. Proposed as a...

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