US Term Limits, Inc. v Thornton

by | Sep 21, 2021 | Term Limits | 0 comments

(certiorari granted of an Arkansas case of a term limit amendment to their constitution. The
term limits has been set by the legislature and suit brought by Bobbie Hill, a member of the
League of Women Voters.
argued 11/29/94 decided 5/22/95

Majority: John Paul Stevens, wrote for the majority; Anthony Kennedy; David Souter; Ruth Bader
Ginsberg; and Steven Breyer

Dissent: Clarence Thomas wrote for the dissent; William Rehnquist; Sandra Day O’Connor; and
Antonin Scalia.


Supreme Court decision

The Supreme Court affirmed by a 5-4 vote. The majority and minority articulated different views of the
character of the federal structure established in the Constitution. Writing for the majority, Justice John
Paul Stevens concluded that:

Finally, state-imposed restrictions, unlike the congressionally imposed restrictions at issue
in Powell, violate a third idea central to this basic principle: that the right to choose
representatives belongs not to the States, but to the people. … Following the adoption of the
17th Amendment in 1913, this ideal was extended to elections for the Senate. The Congress
of the United States, therefore, is not a confederation of nations in which separate
sovereigns are represented by appointed delegates, but is instead a body composed of
representatives of the people.
He further ruled that sustaining Amendment 73 would result in “a patchwork of state qualifications” for
U.S. Representatives, and described that consequence as inconsistent with “the uniformity and national
character that the framers sought to ensure.” Concurring, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the
amendment would interfere with the “relationship between the people of the Nation and their National

Justice Clarence Thomas, in dissent, countered that:
It is ironic that the Court bases today’s decision on the right of the people to “choose whom
they please to govern them.” Under our Constitution, there is only one State whose people
have the right to “choose whom they please” to represent Arkansas in Congress … Nothing
in the Constitution deprives the people of each State of the power to prescribe eligibility
requirements for the candidates who seek to represent them in Congress. The Constitution
is simply silent on this question. And where the Constitution is silent, it raises no bar to
action by the States or the people.

He also noted that the amendment did not actually prevent anyone from election since it only prevents
prospective fourth termers from being printed on the ballot but not from being written in, and therefore
did not overstep the qualifications clause of the federal Constitution.