Flattery: Time for term limits

BY NEIL FLATTERY | JULY 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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The time has come for term limits for the members of Congress and for Supreme Court justices. Despite congressional approval ratings at all-time lows prior to the 2012-midterm elections, incumbent House of Representative and Senate candidates managed to be re-elected at a 90 percent rate, according to Politico. 

The election system has been rigged by the members of Congress in order to get them re-elected. Incumbent candidates in Congress have a huge advantage over their challengers. Name recognition, established relationships with constituents, and the ability to use their terms in office to divert money to their district or state through legislation — essentially buying their congressional seat with tax revenue — gives incumbents a significant advantage.

Term limits would be beneficial because it would eliminate the career politician in the U.S. Congress as well as introduce fresh faces in Washington. Members of Congress would not feel the need to have to pander to their electorate in order to gain re-election and may even have the incentive to make the hard, and maybe unpopular, decisions for the betterment of the nation. A new crop of congressmen and congresswomen may help to relieve the internal bickering and gridlock that has dominated Congress in recent years.     

Despite recent controversial Supreme Court rulings that have divided Americans once again, largely along party lines, support for term limits for Supreme Court justices continues to have bipartisan backing among both Republicans and Democrats. When asked if they would be in favor of implementing a 10-year term limit for Supreme Court justices, 66 percent of respondents to a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll said they would be in favor of such a change, while only 17 percent of respondents backed the current situation of lifetime terms. 

The U.S. government is set up so that each branch is equal in power and checks and balances are put in place so that this power structure remains. However, the Supreme Court can decide the constitutionality of laws, and Congress’ recourse is to pass an amendment to the Constitution, which is quite difficult to do. 

The nine members of the Supreme Court have a proportionally larger amount of power than members of Congress, are not elected, and, at times, their rulings can pass without any checks and balances from the other branches of government.

For those of us in favor of term limits, we are fighting an uphill battle. Members of Congress will not want to limit the amount of time they can spend in office if they can help it. Few of them include this idea in their own political platforms, regardless of popular support for the idea. 

A constitutional amendment would be required to incorporate term limits into public policy, which would need a two-thirds majority from both houses of a drastically divided Congress. Although it is unlikely this will happen anytime soon, term limits are necessary for the government to function as effectively as it possibly can.

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