History Indicates a Rocky Road Ahead for Term Limits

True to their promise to impose term limits, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL) kicked-off 2017 by introducing a constitutional amendment which proposes limiting service to three terms in the House (6 years) and two terms in the Senate (12 years).

The American people resoundingly agreed on Election Day, and President-elect Donald Trump has committed to putting government back to work for the American people.
Sen. Ted Cruz
However, imposing term limits is no menial task, due to the 1995 Supreme Court rule (U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, No. 93-1456) which limits the ability for state’s legislatures or Congress to impose term limits. Limits now must be enacted as an amendment to the Constitution, making the task a much heavier lift. Such an amendment would require bipartisan support in an extremely divided time, and there’s always the question of why elected representatives would support an amendment that limits the time they can spend in office.

Cruz and DeSantis’ attempt to put a cap on the number of years a representative can serve in Congress is nothing new. The issue of term limits has been raised many times by various leaders of both Chambers, yet all attempts have failed. Why?

This is what’s happened in the past 20 years:

  • There’s been a continuous effort to establish term limits.
  • The 106th Congress (1999-2000) was the only Congress in which a resolution was not introduced to the legislators.
  • The most predominant resolutions to establish term limits have been introduced by members of the Republican Party.
  • U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum and U.S. Senator David Vitter have been the champions for term limits, sponsoring such resolutions a total of 8 times combined.
  • In the early 1990’s, the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution had stronger support in the House, with over 130 legislators co-sponsoring the bill. The number of co-sponsors has dropped considerably over the years.
  • The bills have never gathered enough support to pass both of the Chambers.
  • There are currently ten different resolutions attempting to pass an amendment for term limits.

On January 3, Senator Ted Cruz introduced S.J. Resolution 2 “A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to limiting the number of terms that a Member of Congress may serve.” Today, the bill is co-sponsored by 10 republican members of the Senate.

Simultaneously in the House, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis proposed H.J. Resolution 6, which to-date is co-sponsored by 25 Congressional members.

For an amendment to pass, the resolution requires a two-thirds majority vote from both the Senate and the House. After passing both Chambers, the amendment would be sent back to the state legislatures, requiring 38 of them to approve it so it can be ratified into the Constitution.

Sen. Cruz feels confident about the possibilities of term limits becoming a reality given the fact that President Trump campaigned on the issue, arguing they are necessary to “Drain the Swamp” and fix a broken Washington that is no longer working for the people.

“D.C. is broken,” said Sen. Cruz. “The American people resoundingly agreed on Election Day, and President-elect Donald Trump has committed to putting government back to work for the American people. It is well past time to put an end to the cronyism and deceit that has transformed Washington into a graveyard of good intentions.”

TermLimits.org, an organization dedicated to supporting the establishment of a maximum number of years that individuals can be in public office, argues that according to national polls, congressional term limits is the most popular and bipartisan political issue in the United States.

U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton removed the ability of citizens to introduce term limits themselves, but with such widespread public support, constituents may be able to pressure their representatives into making this amendment a reality.