The Term Limits Question

Term limits are appealing now because they supplement public control, and our self-governance powers have eroded. But this amendment doesn’t add them.

A term limits amendment for Congress would reduce the Guarantee clause that specifically guarantees the public free election, a republican form of government. That's a serious reduction of rights and could be a slippery slope. We have term limits for the Presidency because that one election determines the leadership of an entire branch and the final choice is made by the Electoral College (see The Electoral College Question). The term limit checks the College's power, not just the people's.

Term limits for the Presidency are worth these checks because of the office's leadership powers. Term limits for other government officers wouldn’t be as beneficial. There is a ‘revolving door’ of corporations hiring from Capitol Hill to lobby former colleagues. We can address that problem to an extent by prohibiting bribery and soliciting or accepting promises, and by strengthening the clauses preventing anyone but the people from directing government officers' decisions (see Disarming Corruption). Term limits for Congress may sound like a good idea but would worsen the revolving door both for themselves and for their staffs, by setting a definite date by which they will be back in the job market.

Term limits for the Supreme Court would reverse the text of Article III, Section 1 (see Petition vs Attrition).

Article III, Section 1:

“The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices on good Behaviour,” 

Judges serve on good behavior, but are seldom impeached: about one federal judge is impeached a decade. Impeachment is used even more rarely for other officers. Expulsion (impeachment of a member of Congress) has only been used once. Part of the reason is that only two impeachable offenses are named in the Constitution.

Article II, Section 4:

"The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."  

Treason is very rare. Bribery in this context has been defined down to require a direct exchange of cash for a specific action. "High crimes and misdemeanors" if taken literally would disqualify any officer convicted of any state or federal offense at all, but Congress doesn't take it literally. Lying to Congress is one of the few impeachable offenses punished.

This amendment names impeachable offenses that affect the public's ability to self-govern as too destructive to governance itself to let go. And it doesn't just rely on Congress. Law enforcement is also plainly required for some offenses. This brings behavior more under the public's control.  

Term limits for judges would also cancel out the anti-political benefits of appointing rather than electing them, and of appointing them for life. his would be a drastic change to our system. This amendment's prohibitions of political fraud, coercion, or accepting money, presents, benefits, or promises, and the forfeiture provision prior to swearing in also apply to judges. We have to accept political judges, or create a scale of bad political behavior for judicial impeachment; we don’t have to accept dirty judges.

More and more, state and local judges are being made subject to election or reelection. While this is claimed to be because it’s more democratic, what you’ve learned in this proposal about the erosion of the public’s powers in the political process should tell you the real reason: it’s not because the public commands the result of elections, but because we no longer do, that political machines and powerful individuals want to subject as much of government as possible to them. Term limits for judges without first restoring the public’s political powers would be a disaster. 

We need to restore our existing self-governance powers and strengthen and enforce the oversight and enforcement clauses we already have. This amendment does that. 

And incumbents' advantage over challengers is reduced here and in Sections 1, 2 and 3, adding up to a far more level playing field. This amendment restores the public's powers in multiple ways.  If we still need term limits then, we'll know they won’t just be a substitute. Used for the reasons usually given today, they’re a severe compromise we shouldn’t need.  ​