Term-limit issue taking fast track to Supreme Court

March 08, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The still-spreading campaign to limit the terms of members of Congress met another defeat in court yesterday as the Arkansas Supreme Court nullified the idea, moving the issue onto a faster track toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court, with only one justice dissenting, said the Arkansas constitutional amendment approved by the state's voters in November was a move to ban "a broad category of persons from seeking election to Congress."

By making past service a disqualification, the state court said, the amendment adds a restriction that is not in the Constitution and could be put there only by a federal constitutional amendment.

This marked the second time in recent weeks that a congressional term-limit proposal had been struck down. A federal judge did so in a Washington state case last month. A total of 15 states limit the terms of their members of Congress.

Adding to the significance of the Arkansas ruling was the fact that it came from the highest court of a state, thus making the next step the U.S. Supreme Court. The federal judge's ruling in the Washington state case may first have to go through a federal appeals court.

Backers of term limits are planning a prompt appeal of the Arkansas case to the Supreme Court. They also are considering a plea to the Supreme Court to bring up the Washington state case without further delay so that both cases are available for Supreme Court review together.

Incumbents in Congress are especially eager to have the Supreme Court resolve the issue quickly. The Arkansas term limits would have gone into effect in this fall's elections had they not been struck down by the state's highest court.

Term-limit advocates also want a clear-cut ruling from the Supreme Court on the constitutional issue.

"We are getting closer to ultimate resolution of this issue," said Cleta Deatherage Mitchell of the Term Limits Legal Institute, which has been involved in the Arkansas and Washington cases.

Under the Arkansas amendment, members of the U.S. House cannot seek re-election -- except by write-in vote -- after they have served three two-year terms. Members of the U.S. Senate would be ineligible, except by write-in, after serving two six-year terms.

While striking down those congressional limits, the state Supreme Court upheld limits on the terms of state officials and members of the state legislature.

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