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In Defeat for Term Limit Backers, Court Overturns Arkansas Law

By Joan Biskupic
The Washington Post

In another defeat for proponents of term limits, the Supreme Court Monday effectively ensured that an Arkansas initiative aimed at forcing state lawmakers to back term limits will not become law.

The justices let stand a ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that struck down a voter initiative requiring state legislators and members of Congress to use the power of their offices to support congressional term limits, and to penalize those who refuse.

One component of that measure, sometimes referred to as the "scarlet letter" provision, said any official who failed to push for term limits would have the words "Disregarded Voter Instruction on Term Limits" printed in capital letters next to his or her name on future ballots.

"We will continue to fight in the trenches to enact term limits on Congress," said Paul Jacob, executive director of the advocacy group that backed the initiative. He said that although the Supreme Court spurned the case from Arkansas, killing that state's "instruct and inform" law, several other states have similar laws and court challenges are still pending. The high court could eventually weigh in on a battle from another state, Jacob noted.

Yet Monday's action - taken in a one-sentence order and without comment from the justices - is the latest in a string of losses for the movement to restrict through legislation the tenure of members of the U.S. House and Senate.

In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that states themselves may not limit the terms of their elected federal legislators. The justices said only an amendment to the Constitution could restrict terms.

But attempts to change the Constitution have failed. Earlier this month, the House defeated a constitutional amendment that would have limited the time federal lawmakers serve to 12 years. This time around, backers of term limits received even fewer votes than they did when the issue was voted on last year.

The Arkansas law at issue in Monday's case said it was the will of the voters that no one be a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for more than three terms (a total of six years) or a senator for more than two terms, 12 years total.