United States Term Limits v. Thornton Case Brief

Facts of the case

On November 3, 1992, Arkansas voters adopted Amendment 73 to their State Constitution. The Term Limitation Amendment,in addition to limiting terms of elected officials within the Arkansas state government, also provided that any person who served three or more terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Arkansas would be ineligible for re-election as a US Representative from Arkansas. Similarly, the Amendment provided that any person who served two or more terms as a member of the United States Senate from Arkansas would be ineligible for re-election as a US Senator from Arkansas.

Why is the case important?

The Arkansas State Constitution contained an amendment limiting the number of terms federal Congressional and Senatorial candidates from Arkansas could serve. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the amendment was unconstitutional.

Question

Can individual states add additional requirements for election to Congress other than those found in the Constitution?

ANSWER

No. Judgment affirmed.
Arkansas claimed the Tenth Amendment and the principle of reserved powers allow the States to add qualifications that Congressional candidates elected within the State must meet.
The Supreme Court found that the power to add such qualifications was not within the “original powers” of the States because no such right existed before the enactment of the Constitution. Therefore, the Tenth Amendment did not reserve this right for the States. Additionally, the Supreme Court found that the Framers intended the Constitution to be the sole source of qualifications for members of Congress, thereby divesting the States of any power to add qualifications.
Arkansas also argued that the amendment is not a qualification, but rather an acceptable use of the State’s power to regulate the “Times, Places, and Manner of Holding Elections” under Article I. The Supreme Court found this Article only allowed the States to create procedural regulations, not to exclude classes of candidates.

CONCLUSION

The US Supreme Court upheld the lower court rulings because any changes with respect to term limits must be made, not by legislation, but rather through the amendment procedures set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

  • Advocates: Louis R. Cohen Argued the cause for the respondent Hill in both cases J. Winston Bryant Pro se, argued the cause for petitioner in Bryant v. Hill John G. Kester Argued the cause for U.S. Term Limits, Inc Drew S. Days, III Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance Winston Bryant for petitioner in 93-1828 Louis R. Cohen for respondents Drew S. Davis, III for U.S. as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court
  • Petitioner: U. S. Term Limits, Inc.
  • Respondent: Ray Thornton
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Arkansas General Assembly
Citation: 514 US 779 (1995)
Argued: Nov 29, 1994
Decided: May 22, 1995
United States Term Limits v. Thornton Case Brief