The Volokh Conspiracy

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Sixth Circuit

Court Rejects Michigan Lawmakers Challenge to State's Term Limits Law

Whether or not term limits for state legislators are wise, they are constitutional.


Yesterday, in Kowall v. Benson, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected a constitutional challenge to a legislative term limits law adopted in a voter referendum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected a constitutional challenge to these term limits, as applied to state legislators, in 1998, and did so again yesterday. (Term limits for members of Congress were held unconstitutional in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (1995)).

Yesterday's opinion for the court by Judge Thapar begins:

At the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin made the case for term limits. He argued that "in free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former therefore to return among the latter was not to degrade, but to promote them." 2 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 120 (Max Farrand ed., 1911) (cleaned up). The people of Michigan had the same idea. They enacted term limits for their state legislators. Yet some veteran legislators didn't take their "promotion" well. They sued, claiming term limits violate their constitutional rights. But it's not our place to second-guess how Michiganders choose to design their state legislature.

It concludes:

More than twenty years ago, the people of Michigan chose a citizen legislature, not a professional one. Now, legislators with years of experience seek to use the federal courts to get around their state's sovereign choice. But it's not our place to intervene on their behalf. If they want to change the law, they'll have to do that at the ballot box.