Want to get rid of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.? How about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California?
Term limits is your answer.
The movement toward limiting the number of terms congressional representatives can serve grew quickly as part of the Contract with America, a legislative agenda advocated for the Republican Party in the 1994 mid-term elections. But after its passage in 23 states, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton in 1995 that states may not individually enact term limits for their members of Congress.
But the movement is back, and the U.S. Term Limits organization that was a party in the Supreme Court decision is still pushing to enact term limits at all levels of government through elections, legislatures and the courts, with an ultimate aim of passing a congressional term limits amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
An amendment would supersede the Supreme Court decision since it would affect all 50 states, not just some.
But more on that later. Because if no one favors term limits, the organization is wasting its time.
However, congressional term limits — the current constitutional amendment bill in Congress defines them as a three-term (six-year) limit for House members and a two-term (12-year) limit for senators — has had the approval of up to 80% of respondents in some polls, has 674 pledge signers in state legislatures and boasts 90 pledge signers in Congress.
Its congressional backers from the Tennessee delegation include U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty and U.S. Reps. Diana Harshbarger, Tim Burchett and Mark Green, none of whom has served three terms.
Fleischmann, in his 11th year in the House, has not backed the movement. Neither has Pelosi, who is in her 35th year.
The aforementioned bill, in order to pass, must have the approval of two-thirds of members of both houses of Congress. As such, its passage is highly doubtful, though it does have both Republican and Democratic supporters.
A secondary method to achieve a constitutional amendment is a term limits convention, also known as an Article V convention. Such a convention requires 34 state legislatures to convene a meeting to write an amendment for congressional term limits. As with the traditional method of adopting amendments, two-thirds of the states also would have to vote to pass it.
The Tennessee House passed just such a bill 53-34 this year. It "makes application to Congress for the purpose of calling an Article V convention to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution to set a limit on the number of terms to which a person may be elected as a member of the Congress of the United States."
State Reps. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, and Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, voted for the bill, while state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, voted against it. The state Senate, in turn, referred the bill to its Finance, Ways & Means Committee and took no other action on it.
In recent months, similar bills have passed the entire legislature in Alabama, Florida, Missouri and West Virginia. Bills also have passed the Georgia Senate and the North Carolina House and are active in the Pennsylvania and South Carolina legislatures.
This past week, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said he has accepted the role as state chairman for the congressional term limits effort sponsored by U.S. Term Limits.
"America is divided as ever before," he said in a statement. "But there is one thing we all agree on, no matter politics. Congress is broken, and there doesn't seem to be any way to fix it. The U.S. Constitution provides the solution in Article V . Our goal is to make sure the state of Tennessee is the next state to pass a resolution for the states to add term limits on Congress to the U.S. Constitution."
According to a 2021 MacLaughlin and Associates poll of Tennesseans, 78% approve congressional term limits, including 90% of Democrats, 77% of Republicans and 71% of independents.
The country's Founding Fathers debated term limits, employing the concept in the Articles of Confederation but ultimately rejecting it in the construction of the Constitution.
But skeptics of the change remained, including likely essayist Melancton Smith, who said limits would check legislators "elected for long periods, and far removed from the observation of the people" and those who would become "inattentive to the public good, callous, selfish, and the fountain of corruption." Similarly, Thomas Jefferson worried that "total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of president and senator will end in abuse."
A term limit eventually was put in place for the office of president following Franklin Roosevelt's election to four terms in the 1930s and 1940s.
If term limits ever reaches the Article V convention level, we hope the tenure for House members is raised to 10 years, or 12, which would match the current bill in Congress for senators. In the meantime, we hope the bill receives a lively debate in the Tennessee Senate next year and that constituents let their representatives know whether congressional term limits is an idea for the birds or one whose time has come.