Term Limits, UFOs and Flat Earth

June 04, 1995

The Supreme Court said neither states nor Congress can impose term limits or any other qualifications on members of Congress beyond those specified in the Constitution's qualifications clauses: which require members to be a minimum age, U.S. citizens and inhabitants of their state. Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., said he therefore would propose that Congress define an "inhabitant" as someone who is "physically present" in a state for half the year for 12 years in a row. "So if you haven't been there you'd no longer qualify as an inhabitant."

That would effectively limit terms to 12 years, probably (except for Marylanders and others within commuting distance of Capitol Hill), but it's not going to happen, nor should it.

For some, the term limits debate has descended from rationality to craziness. Senator Brown's comments are not even the nuttiest reaction to the Supreme Court decision. Pat Buchanan said, "It is time Congress defied [the] Supreme Court." And he said that Republican senators "like Phil Gramm and Bob Dole, who voted to put liberal statists like Ginsburg and Breyer on the Supreme Court, have a great deal to answer for tonight." That's a lot of Republican senators. Republicans voted 33-9 for Stephen Breyer and 41-3 for Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- and 46-0 for Anthony Kennedy, 44-0 for David Souter and 38-0 for John Paul Stevens, the other justices who killed term limits.

The term limits movement is in danger of going the way of the anti-fluoridationists, UFO alarmists and Flat Earthers. We know there are many serious people who truly believe over-long congressional careers are harmful to the nation. They should work to empower challenges to incumbents. Make it easier for voters to limit terms on a case-by-case, election-by-election basis. Let selectivity and discrimination work.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey says the issue will lead his party to gains in Congress in 1996 because "approximately 80 percent of the American people want term limits." He is probably referring to a CNN/USA Today poll showing respondents favored term limits by 73 to 24 percent. That poll showed five other proposals on other issues were more popular. In an ABC bTC News/Washington Post poll, term limits tied for sixth when voters were asked to identify "absolutely critical" issues. And a .. Greenberg Research poll ranked term limits only the 13th most important issue to respondents.

Rep. Robert Ehrlich, a freshman Republican from conservative Baltimore and Harford counties who opposes term limits, got it exactly right. He said his constituents favor limits but aren't very passionate about the issue. It's only some of the leaders of the movement like Mr. Buchanan who are passionate about it. Too passionate. Passionate to the point of a demagogy that marginalizes them.

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