Should members of Congress have term limits?

The longest serving member of the U.S. Congress was John
Dingell, a congressman from Michigan who retired after serving 59 years and 21 days in the House of Representatives.


The longest serving member of the U.S. Congress was John Dingell, a congressman from Michigan who retired after serving 59 years and 21 days in the House of Representatives.

Maggie Schneider and Eli Tapia

In today’s politically charged environment, arguments are constantly being made on how to improve politics in order to better serve the people and their needs. One of the most discussed topics recently has been whether government officials, specifically members of Congress, should have term limits.

The 22nd Amendment sets a two-term limit for the President of the United States. In 1947, a Republican- controlled Congress sent the amendment to the states, and in 1951 it was ratified. According to a 2013 poll by Gallup, 75% of Americans support term limits for Senators and Representatives. So why have term limits never been placed on members of Congress?

Throughout history term limits for members of Congress have been set. The Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, established term limits of six years for members of the Continental Congress. However, these term limits did not continue into our modern-day Congress. The Supreme Court case of U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton ruled in a 5-4 majority that the Constitution did not allow states the right to limit the terms of their elected Senators and Representatives.

It is not uncommon for Senators to serve more than 40 years in office for their home state, and often get the perks of remaining in office. The “seniority system” is described as giving special privileges to members of the Senate and House of Representatives. It enhances the power of committee chairs, who set the agenda and preside over the committee, which reviews legislation. It even helps to elect the Speaker of the House and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate. By not having term limits for congressional members, people are elected to positions based on their seniority in Congress, rather than their merit or qualifications.

The most common argument against congressional term limits is that elections serve as a way to re-assess the ability of an elected official to remain in office. However, citizens often become complacent with the roles of their elected officials and become accustomed to their Congress members. So, oftentimes incumbent office-holders often remain in office when they are up for re-election. Another common argument is that term limits can prevent favorable government officials from continuing to pass legislation and make an impact on our government. While this can be true, there are many other positions in government where elected officials can continue to make legislative change. Bernie Sanders, for example, held office as mayor of Burlington, Vermont from 1981 to 1990 when he was elected to the House of Representatives until 2006, when he then became a senator for Vermont. A political career can be made out of holding office in numerous government positions, rather than remaining in the same position for decades.

Setting a limit can be beneficial in avoiding corruption and improving the honesty and transparency, as well as efficiency, of our government and its employees. Seniority is celebrated in Congress, and long-standing government officials tend to base their political votes and legislation on whether it will be advantageous to them. Senators and representatives often become uninfluenced in their views and mindset, which leads to no progressive change happening. An influx of new members of Congress could pave the way for new, modern ideas and legislation passed.

By enforcing congressional term limits for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, we can avoid corruption in our government and allow for transparency and honesty with our elected officials.