“The Supreme Court & Political Eras”

Imposing term limits on members of Congress—as 14 states, following the example of Colorado, decided to do last November, 1992, represents a return to the values of the Founding Fathers, columnist George Will solemnly maintained in his 1992 book, Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy.

Term limits were included in James Madison’s “Virginia Plan,” which was submitted to the Constitutional Convention, but the subject of “rotation” (periodic removal from office) was then set aside, according to Will, so that the delegates could attend to more urgent matters. Imposing term limits today, Will contended, would simply complete the task that the Framers began but were too distracted to complete.

This picture, journalist-historian .Garry. Wills.asserts, is false through and through. Rotation.was not a peripheral concern but a central one...It was a fighting matter raised constantly by opponents of the Constitution and resolutely.fought off by the draft’s defenders (including.Madison).”

It is true, Wills acknowledges, that Madison put rotation in his first draft of the Constitution—but only as part of his initial effort to cut state legislatures completely out of the federal election system. Madison had been frustrated in the Continental Congress by the way in which the state legislatures tied the hands of the delegates they sent. His Virginia Plan proposed that the people elect one branch of the federal Congress, whose members would then elect the Senate. Term limits were to be imposed on delegates elected to the popular branch.

When it became clear that the Framers would not go along with efforts to eliminate the state legislatures’ role—they were allowed to choose senators in the completed draft—Madison abandoned term limits. Other delegates at the convention, however, favored rotation, especially for the president. The subject, contrary to Will, was not simply dropped by the Framers as a “detail” of no consequence. Although all rotation was excluded from the Constitution finally adopted by the federal convention, the Anti-Federalists continued their fight for term limits in the ratifying conventions of the states. The term limits that Will now advocates, Wills observes, represent a return to the values, not of the Founders but of the Anti-Federalists—the enemies of the Constitution. “Restoration” was not the sole merit of term limits in George Will’s eyes. He also argued that they would deal a blow to the “careerism” of today’s Congress.

But, asks Garry Wills, is professionalism such a bad thing? One commentator wrote in a 1983 book that Washington politics is “a complex profession—a vocation, not an avocation... . The day of the ‘citizen legislator’—the day when a legislator’s primary job was something other than government—is gone. A great state cannot be run by ‘citizen legislators’ and amateur administrators.” That commentator’s name? George Will.



Winter 1993. (Pg. 13-14)

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Church of the Science of GOD, 1993
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