Supreme Court agrees to rule on term limits

June 21, 1994|By Newsday

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether voters who are fed up with career politicians can limit their terms in the U.S. Congress.

The fate of the burgeoning term-limits movement, which could change the face and politics of the nation's lawmakers, will be decided by the court during its next term, with a decision expected by July 1995.

While the case accepted by the court yesterday comes from Arkansas, congressional term limits in 14 other states, mostly in the West and Midwest, hang in the balance. Limits on terms of state legislators are not affected.

A number of legal experts believe the court will rule that term limits would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- a change its supporters already are seeking. Term limits already have been declared unconstitutional by the Arkansas Supreme Court and a federal District Court judge in the state of Washington.

The framers of the Constitution set out just three qualifications for congressional service. A House member must be at least 25 and a citizen of the United States for seven years. Senate members must be at least 30 and citizens for nine years. Candidates for both are required to be residents of the states from which they seek election.

The language of the constitution does not expressly prohibit the states from adding additional qualifications, but the Arkansas court said that the framers considered and rejected term limits.

The voters of 14 states approved term limits in November 1992, most of them by margins of 2-1 or more. The limits are uniformly two terms, or 12 years, for senators and range from six to 12 years for House members. Colorado has had limits since 1990.

In other action yesterday, the court:

* Refused to hear a case challenging an "English-only" rule imposed on a mostly bilingual work force at a California %o meat-processing plant.

The Justice Department, urging the court to take the case, had argued that it violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act's prohibition of employment discrimination based on national origin.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco said that, because the employees who sued the meat processor spoke English as well as Spanish, their rights were not impaired.

[Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer last month vetoed a bill adopted by the General Assembly that would have made English the state's official language.]

* Made it more difficult for longshoremen and coal miners to collect disability benefits.

The court ruled 7-2 that a Department of Labor rule in place for 50 years granting the benefit of doubt in close cases to workers trying to prove that their disability stemmed from the job violates a federal law passed in 1947. The decision could impact coal miners suffering from "black lung" disease, commonly acquired from inhaling coal dust. Miners may not become seriously ill with the disease until long after they have stopped working.

* Ruled 5-4 that a prisoner who was transferred from federal to state custody who did not receive his trial within the legally mandated 120 days could not sue in federal court because he had not objected to the delay at the proper time in court.

* Refused to hear an appeal from Douglas LaChance, president of the New York City newspaper driver's union. LaChance, paroled from prison in 1985 after serving five years for extortion and racketeering, had his parole revoked after he was accused of using cocaine.

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