Why Term Limits?

Greater Chance for Change in Congress
Incumbents start every election cycle with a home field advantage. Term limits increase the likelihood of new ideas and new policies in Washington DC by preventing one party control of congressional seats. When parties compete for open seats, there are more opportunities for real change to occur.
Focus on Public Service, Not A Career
The best public servants are motivated by a desire to represent the interests of the citizens. Term limits ensure that public service is more important than achieving a certain level of power or establishing a career. Public servants will make decisions for the People when they know they’ll soon return to live among their constituents without a congressional title.
Fewer Bad Apples
Public servants start their positions wanting to do the right thing for the people, but along the way their goal changes to simply getting re-elected. With term limits, there’d be less time for a politician to be influenced by the power of the office and the lobbyists that pay for their reelection campaigns.
Untapped Leadership
Term limits clear the ballot of entrenched politicians and break down the barrier of running against an incumbent. People with fresh ideas and modern perspectives have more incentive to seek public office and share their talents for the betterment of the country.
Prevent Abuse of Power
A popular belief is that the longer you do a job, the better you’ll perform. However, giving an official unlimited time to serve in a position is detrimental to the public good. Term limits keep elected officials focused on the reasons they seek office and will prevent the possibility for abuse of the position.
Less Special Interest Influence
Whether trying to buy influence or supporting PACs to fund reelection campaigns, special interests use their financial power to write policy that do not serve the American people. With term limits, fewer opportunities exist for officials to become entrenched and beholden to special interests.
More Freshness, Less Staleness
To best represent their citizens, elected officials need to be smart, hard-working and connected with the public. Term limits would prevent officials from turning “stale” in office and losing touch with the ideas and good reasons they sought office.
The Classical Greeks and Romans Used Them
We can thank the the inventors of the Democratic Republic, the Greeks and Romans, for many of the ways our country is governed. The evolution of their democratic principles built the foundation for all Western democracies. One of the fundamental beliefs of that era was that no single person should indefinitely hold a position of power. To benefit the greater good, term limits - some as short as six months - were enforced on their leaders


The History of Term Limits


Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post suggesting they would endorse a constitutional amendment to limit the number of times a legislator can run for re-election to the same office, an idea that was also popularized by President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign.

Cruz and DeSantis argued,

“Though our Founding Fathers declined to include term limits in the Constitution, they feared the creation of a permanent political class that existed parallel to, rather than enmeshed within, American society.”

The idea of term limits, connected to the notion of “rotation in office,” was popular during the early days of the American republic. Citizens at the time viewed term limits as a means to prevent corruption and distant, entrenched interests staying permanently in power. They worried that a lack of change in higher office could be destructive to republican government.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend Edward Rutledge in 1788,

“I apprehend that the total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of president and senator will end in abuse. But my confidence is that there will for a long time be virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses.”

Under the Articles of Confederation, term limits restricted representatives to three terms in any six-year period. 1 However, some of the Constitution’s strongest advocates rejected the notion that sweeping out legislators by law would reduce corruption.

James Madison argued that term limits might actually lead to government dysfunction, and he felt that frequent elections were a better check on power than forcing legislators out of office by law. Madison wrote in Federalist 53 that the higher proportion of new representatives swept into office due to term limits could lead to poor decisions and corruption from a wave of inexperienced legislators.

Madison surmised that the “greater the proportion of new members, and the less the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt will they be to fall into the snares that may be laid for them.” 2

Ultimately, the opponents to term limits won and the Constitution was ratified without them.


A Return to Term Limits


Even though the framers of the Constitution ultimately dropped term limits, the debate over rotation for federal officials continued. Through the 19th century, a regular rotation in office was common as citizens and politicians believed by creed and custom that periodic changes in public office were healthy for the republic. There were also practical limits on time in office - shorter life spans. However, in the 20th century as lifespans increased, long-term incumbency increased substantially.

Growth in governmental scope produced less turnover and more careerism than previous eras. This led to a movement to curtail the power of near-permanent stays in office.

Term limits on the chief executive were introduced after the four concurrent elections of President Franklin Roosevelt. 3 While earlier presidents had served no more than the two-term precedent set by George Washington, FDR stayed in office nearly 13 years, prompting fears of a calcified presidency. In 1951, the United States ratified the 22nd Amendment to strictly limit the president to two terms.

Reformers set their sights on legislative incumbency too. A wave of states passed term limit restrictions on their legislators in the mid-1990s, and the reforms attracted broad and bipartisan support. But the Supreme Court struck down these laws in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, in which they were rejected over conflict with Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. 4

The fight continues today to bring about rotation in office and remove the obstacles to limited public service. We know that both houses of Congress will not vote themselves out of a career, which leaves Article V as the only true method of imposing term limits.