U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) was a Supreme Court decision where one side was the United States federal government, and the other side was the state of Arkansas, represented by their Attorney General, Ray Thornton. Section 3 of Amendment 73 to the Arkansas state Constitution prohibited the name of a candidate for Congress, who would have otherwise been eligible, from appearing on the general election ballot if that candidate had already served three terms in the House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate. That state law basically limited the amount of terms a member of Congress could hold. Respondent Hill had then filed a suit in the Arkansas state court which challenged the constitutionality of this law. The trial court held that Section 3 violated Article I of the Federal Constitution, and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. The Arkansas Supreme Court had stated that the State had no authority to modify in any way the requirements for congressional services which were listed in the Qualifications Clauses (found in the United States Constitution in Article I, Section 2, Clause 2, and Article I, Section 3, Clause 3). This case was then taken to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had many questions which they had to answer. First of all, was Amendment 73 of the Arkansas state constitution constitutional? Could a state limit the amount of terms for a federal position? Should there be a term limit placed on members of the House of Representatives and the Senate? This case was argued on November 29, 1994. The court's decision and the answers were delivered on May 22, 1995.
The answer was delivered by Justice Stevens. It was held that Section 3 of Amendment 73 to the Arkansas state constitution is in violation to the Federal Constitution, and therefore, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that States cannot impose term limits on federal offices. The Supreme Court then went on to say that only the U.S. Constitution could impose restrictions on congressional hopefuls.
The supporters of state imposed term limits cited Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution. This section states, "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators." The Supreme Court ruled against the states imposing term limits in a 5-4 decision. They argued that while Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution upholds state offices limiting terms, they violate the spirit of Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. This section sets the limitations for service in Congress, and they exclude those people who are not citizens of the U.S. residing in the state which they wish to represent. They must also be at least 25 years old for the House of Representatives, and at least 30 years of age to serve in the Senate. The state cannot impose congressional term limits because it would go against the Constitution.
U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) had many consequences which we are only beginning to feel today, and will probably be felt greatly in the long run. First of all, states no longer have the authority to set limits on Congressional positions. This Supreme Court decision, struck down Congressional term limit laws in 23 different states. Also, only the United States Constitution had the authority to impose restrictions on Congressional candidates and impose term limits. It also showed that if the United States government ever did decide to set a limit on Congressional terms it would require an amendment to the Constitution. Furthermore, since it does require amending the federal constitution, it is beyond the power of the states to impose congressional term limits.
Sources:http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com and notes from Government class