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US Term Limits, Inc. v. Thorton, 514 US 779 (1995) p115


Power of states - term limits


Action was brought challenging amendment to the Arkansas Constitution which precluded persons who had served certain number of terms in the United States Congress from having their names placed on the ballot for election to Congress.


The Circuit Court found that the provision violated the United States Constitution. The

Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed.


Whether states are allowed to impose term limits on persons running for Congress. Whether the fact that the Arkansas amendment is formulated as a ballot access restriction rather than as an outright disqualification is of constitutional significance.


States may not impose term limits.


On certiorari, the Supreme Court, Justice Stevens, held that: (1) states may not impose qualifications for offices of the United States representative or United States senator in addition to those set forth by the Constitution; (2) power to set additional qualifications was not reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment; and (3) state provision is unconstitutional when it has likely effect of handicapping a class of candidates and has the sole purpose of creating additional qualifications indirectly. Affirmed.


Allowing individual states to adopt their own qualifications for congressional service would be inconsistent with framers' vision of uniform national legislature representing the people of the United States. With respect to Congress, framers of the Constitution intended the Constitution to establish fixed qualifications in the sense that they may not be supplemented by Congress. Powers retained by the states under the Tenth Amendment proceed, not from the people of America, but from the people of the several states and they remain, after adoption of the Constitution, what they were before, except so far as they may be abridged by that instrument.

The power to add qualifications is not within the original powers of the states, and thus is not reserved to the states by the 10th Amendment.

The Framers intended the Constitution to be the exclusive source of qualifications for members of Congress, and that the Framers thereby divested States of any power to add qualifications.


Justice Stevens wrote the opinion, Souter, Breyer, Ginsburg

concurring opinion - Kennedy

dissenting opinion - Thomas, Scalia, Rehnquist, O'Conner