Term Limits: A Modest Proposal


George Washington set a long-held precedent by leaving the office of president after two terms, though he almost certainly would have been elected to a third term and possibly more. Washington held the conviction that the presidency must not become too powerful by unlimited tenure, making it distinct from European monarchies. He did not want the young nation to have an imperial presidency. He retired to a modest life. Post-presidency, there are ample opportunities to pursue national and global goals or simply return to private life and serve the common good in that way. That held until 1940, when Franklin Roosevelt ran for a third term after serving two full terms, and won. Then he ran again in 1944 and won a fourth term, which he barely started before his death.


In 1951 the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution was passed, limiting a president to two full terms, and not more than 10 years aggregate, should the president have entered office through succession rather than election. I think that serves our country well.


In light of the problems, real and perceived, swirling about Congress today (indeed, all three branches of our federal government), I propose that senators and representatives be limited to 18 years of service, which would be three full terms for a senator and nine full terms for a representative. After fulfilling the allotted 18 years in one chamber of the Congress, whether consecutive or interrupted, the person could run for the other house. In any case, the limit would be 18 years in either chamber of the Congress.


Further, I would like to see Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice of the United States, limited to 18 year appointments. The justices would serve in staggered terms, perhaps with one seat open every two years. This would take away the chance that one president could pack the court and another get to make no appointments, and would more evenly distribute the power of appointment to the highest court in the land. There may be a better system of rotation; I am just offering this one as a conversation starter.


The point I am making is that if term limits work well in one branch of the federal government, they should work just as well in the other two branches. A vibrant democracy is well served by having new people involved in governing regularly. Like President Washington, those that govern should return to private life after their service in Washington D. C.


Would these changes solve all of Washington’s problems? No, of course not. But I think they would help government be more responsive and our elected and appointed leaders be more free to do what they deem right rather than working at preserving their status and seniority no matter what the cost. It might even promote more bi-partisanship in Congress.

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