Liberty Amendments: Congressional Term Limits

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post lamenting the need for a strong leader, a visionary, a man of conviction to help us break the chains of tyranny that are enslaving us, a rebel who will stand up to the establishment and restore the principles of freedom on which our nation was founded. I think we have found one such man in Mark Levin—though I’m sure we need many such men to push back the despotic tide that is threatening to drown us all. 

Like the prophet Ezra turning his people back to the law of God after their exile in Babylon, Levin is calling Americans back to their law, to their founding principles—to the Constitution. He’s doing it through his book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.

My purpose in this post is not to debate the feasibility of state conventions in amending the Constitution — Mainly because one would need to read Levin’s book to grasp how this can be done. If you would like to discuss the constitutional process itself, I point you to Ricochet member Ole Summer’s post on The Liberty Amendments.

After reading the book, I do think Levin’s plan is possible (of course it is—the Founders wouldn’t have included it in the Constitution if they thought it weren’t possible!), but, as he says, it won’t happen overnight. This is not a plan for those addicted to instant gratification or quick fixes. This is a battle that will take years, but it is a beginning. It is a vision.

What I would like to do through a series of posts is discuss each amendment Levin has proposed — amendments designed to turn America back to the Constitution. This might seem strange—amending the Constitution to save it—but this is exactly the gift given to the American people by our founders when politicians have become too tyrannical to fix the government themselves.

The first amendment Levin has proposed is establishing term limits for members of Congress: 



SECTION 1: No person may serve more than twelve years as a member of Congress, whether such service is exclusively in the House or the Senate or combined in both Houses.

SECTION 2: Upon ratification of this Article, any incumbent member of Congress whose term exceeds the twelve-year limit shall complete the current term, but thereafter shall be ineligible for further service as a member of Congress.

According to Levin, “There is nothing wrong with keeping a good public servant in office for as long as the official and we, the voters, want him there. New does not necessarily mean better, and often it can mean worse.” The problem is that in reality too often unexpected consequences prevail.

America has never been a pure democracy and majoritarianism has always been as much feared as monarchism. Moreover, our supposedly broad parameters of “choice” at the ballot box have actually caused a dramatic narrowing of electoral options for voters. Putting aside the media histrionics over “divided” government and the “dysfunctional” relationships between the two houses of Congress, these institutions are populated by a class of elected officials who jealously covet the power of public office.

 In 2010, 85 percent of incumbents from both parties were reelected—397 members of the House ran for reelection and 339 won. The Senate’s reelection rate was 84 percent.


Ronald Rotunda, Chapman University law professor and constitutional expert, made the point a few years ago that “turnover in the House of Lords has been greater than the turnover in the House of Representatives. There was even more turnover in the membership of the Soviet Politburo.”

As Levin says, “It is apparent that in Washington and most political capitals TIME in office = POWER.”


An important antidote is congressional term limits, which slowly displaces a self-perpetuating ruling class populated by professional politicians—which is increasingly authoritarian in its approach to governance—with a legislative body whose members are, in fact, more representative of the people, for they are rotated in and out of Congress over a generally shorter and defined period of time.

What do you think of this particular amendment in helping to reduce the power of the federal government and putting it back in the hands of the people? 

Levin’s 11 Proposed Liberty Amendments:

  1. Establish Congressional Term Limits

  2. Repeal the 17th Amendment and Restore the Senate
  3. Establish Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices
  4. Limit Federal Spending
  5.  Limit Federal Taxing
  6. Limit the Federal Bureaucracy
  7. Promote Free Enterprise
  8. Protect Private Property
  9. Grant States Authority to Directly Amend the Constitution
  10. Grant States Authority to Check Congress
  11. Protect the Vote

(While these are Levin’s suggestions, he has stated that others could certainly be proposed.)

  1. Betty

    Just bought this book on Saturday and yes I’d like term limits.  Also, there should be term limits on regular “working” folks doing the day to day paperwork in the government.  But then, if we could do what this book suggests, there would not be so many of those regular folks to  be concerned about.

  2. Ontos

    I think it is a great idea. The problem is that congressmen and senators get too acclimated to a DC style and point of view that tears them away from the people they are representing and the promises they made in order to get there. I need only think of the GOP to illustrate this. The entrenched members of the new Republican majority band together to thwart the powerful demand for stopping Obama and reversing the damage he had already done. So what happened: sclerosis. They smothered the spirit to overturn Obamacare and the massive growth of the size and reach of the federal government.

  3. Dave Carter
    C

    I’m working my way through the book now, and I like what I’m seeing.  Years ago, I was against term limits, reasoning that the best term limit was the vote.   At some point, however, we should come to terms with the reality that we have a permanent governing class whose interests run counter to our own and who increasingly rule against the consent of the governed.  Term limits strike me as a vital and necessary step to restoring the principles of limited, self government that animated the Founders.  

  4. PracticalMary

    I need to read the book, but I agree with term limits. It would also help with the system of seniority they have in place. We elect our representatives and I can never understand why they don’t all have equal say/power. You are or, are not, a senator. We don’t elect them as junior senators or something. This penalizes states for getting rid of the bad ones, too. Why have so many just accepted their labels as ‘freshmen’? I don’t read about these freshmen in the Constitution. Rand and Cruz have broken out of this mold to a certain extent, but are they working behind the scenes to change Republican ‘rules’?

  5. John Walker

    One interesting point Levin makes is that the emergence of a professional political class did not occur until the 20th century.  On p. 27 (Kindle edition) he quotes Prof. Mark P. Petracca:

    During the 25 elections between 1850 and 1898 … turnover averaged 50.2 percent.  On average, more than half the House during any given session in the second half of the nineteenth century was made up of first term members.

  6. D.C. McAllister
    C
    PracticalMary:Why have so many just accepted their labels as ‘freshmen’? I don’t read about these freshmen in the Constitution.

    This is an excellent point I hadn’t thought about.

  7. D.C. McAllister
    C
    John Walker: One interesting point Levin makes is that the emergence of a professional political class did not occur until the 20th century.  On p. 27 (Kindle edition) he quotes Prof. Mark P. Petracca:

    During the 25 elections between 1850 and 1898 … turnover averaged 50.2 percent.  On average, more than half the House during any given session in the second half of the nineteenth century was made up of first term members.

    16 minutes ago

    I found that point interesting too. One reason term limits wasn’t in the Constitution, even though they talked about it, was they didn’t think in terms of a professional politician. People held jobs in the private sector and once in a while served in the public sector, only to return to their jobs. Many even kept their private sector jobs while in office. That would be an excellent thing for all of them to do! Then they’d really be affected by their stupid policies.

  8. Butters

    Completely agree, no politician is indispensable.

    The permanent DC ruling class needs to end. The problem is most of them aren’t even in elected positions. Lois Lerner for example.

    OTOH it would seem difficult for a congressman to ever become a senator. They would need to decide to run within six years of becoming a House member, and then the seat would need to be up for election in that sixth year, if I’m reading the amendment correctly.

  9. Nathaniel Wright

    The bureaucracy is the problem and not Congress per se. Yes, Congress empowered the bureaucracy to do things without oversight. There is the entire field of Administrative Law as a consequence. But it is the lack of oversight that is the problem and not term limits.

    Unless the bureaucracy itself is tamed term limits will only serve to further empower the  permanent bureaucracy and the lobbying class. This is what has happened in California and it will happen elsewhere. I would ask Levin to read John Marini’s very insightful and almost prescient book on bureaucracy and to stop advocating what George Will wanted in the early 90s.

    A recent piece by Marini on the transformation of Congress from its Constitutional purpose can be found here. The problem isn’t that Congress is over reaching its own power levels with the passage of Obama Care and the Patriot Act etc. It is that those acts have created powerful and enduring bureaucracies that will survive any “term limits.”

    It would be better to limit how long people can serve in the public sector period than limit Congress specifically.

  10. Nathaniel Wright

    If one thinks that the DC ruling class is Congress, one hasn’t been paying attention to the IRS scandal or other scandals lately. The bureaucracy has openly defied and lied to Congress and the institution is completely unable to do anything about it.

  11. PracticalMary
    Nathaniel Wright: The bureaucracy is the problem and not Congress per se. Yes, Congress empowered the bureaucracy to do things without oversight. There is the entire field of Administrative Law as a consequence. But it is the lack of oversight that is the problem and not term limits.

    Unless the bureaucracy itself is tamed term limits will only serve to further empower the  permanent bureaucracy and the lobbying class. This is what has happened in California and it will happen elsewhere. I would ask Levin to read John Marini’s very insightful and almost prescient book on bureaucracy and to stop advocating what George Will wanted in the early 90s.

    A recent piece by Marini on the transformation of Congress from its Constitutional purpose can be found here. The problem isn’t that Congress is over reaching its own power levels with the passage of Oba…

    It would be better to limit how long people can serve in the public sector period than limit Congress specifically. · 2 minutes ago

    This- not forgetting their SWAT teams. The die was cast with the IRS and it should be our main target. Flat or Fair tax- repeal of 16th

  12. Bereket Kelile

    D.C., great minds think alike. I didn’t mention this in my criticism but it is one more piece of evidence that supports my disappointment.

    These clever ideas that conservatives come up with never seem to get the vetting they need. All they have to do is look at California to see how it worked out.

    Term limits have been a failure. They were proposed for the same reasons and what happened was the “institutional memory” moved from the capitol to the lobbyists’ office. 

    I think that term limits will create a Congress full of puppets who don’t know how the process works and will be controlled by K Street. However few good long-term members there are today will become even fewer. Don’t be deceived, you will be disappointed in the quality of the members.

    I don’t think this project is difficult because it’s important because it’s a bad idea and a waste of resources. Instead of looking for shortcuts and fool-proof solutions we need to do the hard work of introducing Americans to the Founders’ vision of gov’t and ensuring this movement continues. 

  13. billy

    I’m not necessarily opposed to term limits,  but I don’t think they will do much to break up the permanent political class. Consider the career of Rahm Emmanuel: White House advisor under Clinton, parlayed into a lucrative job at one of the Fannies, a stint in Congress, White House Chief-of-Staff, and now Mayor of Chicago. After that? Maybe President Michelle will let tap him to be HHS Secretary.

    He would have risen through the ranks of the ruling class with or without term limits.

  14. Eric Hines

    Levin goes too far.  Tailored from Article V of the Articles of Confederation:

    No person shall be capable of being a member of either House of the Congress for more than two terms in any period of four terms.  In the event a Congressman is elected or appointed to the other House of Congress than that in which he currently serves, his term in the other House shall be his second term in the period of four. 

    Each of the intervening two terms, which must pass before capability to be a member of a House of Congress shall be restored, shall be as long as the term of the last House in which the Member shall have served. 

    During each of the intervening two terms before a person shall again become capable of being a member of Congress, that person cannot work for, or in, the Federal government in any capacity, whether for compensation or pro bono, nor can that person work for any organization that does business with the government in any capacity, whether for compensation or pro bono.  Any time spent doing such work shall not be counted a part of the intervening two terms.

    Eric Hines

  15. civil westman

    I haven’t yet read the book, but I would go farther. I would amend the Constitution so that each year one state votes on whether or not to remain in the union. Every year, one state would decide upon whether it wishes to remain in the union or secede and negotiate treaties as a sovereign nation with the remaining union. Every 50 years, then, every state would have this opportunity. If the union remains intact, it would indeed mean the governed have given their consent. Presently, “consent of the governed” is an empty and meaningless phrase, as there exists no mechanism to withdraw consent. Consent which may not be withdrawn is no consent at all.

  16. Sabrdance

    Bereket is right.  The problem isn’t in Congress -the problem isn’t in the Bureaucracy.  The problem is that the Federal Government does so much -and it does everything it does because the people want it.  Rotating warm bodies in the legislature isn’t going to fix that -the new members will vote the same way as the old members because both are responding to electoral pressure.  Term limits might exacerbate the problem by moving the source of all information to the Bureaucracy -which is a principal-agent problem waiting to happen.

    My standing solution is to triple the size of the House (which doesn’t require an amendment).  Smaller House seats will be easier to contest, and it is much harder to buy-off (in the legal manner) 751 members instead of 417.  Finally, 1500 House members might even be able to divide up the work a bit more so that they can do more oversight of the bureaucracy, or even internalize some of the previously delegated functions (at this point, I am of course dreaming).

  17. Steve C.

    1. Change their pay structure. A per diem for each day they are in session.

    2. Limit congressional sessions to 120 days per year.

    State legislatures, not all, operate this way. The US Congress used to operate this way.

  18. D.C. McAllister
    C

    Nathaniel — does it help that the “fix” Levin is proposing involves several amendments to unravel the bureaucracy? This is just one piece. He’s going for comprehensive change which didn’t happen in California .

  19. D.C. McAllister
    C

    Saberdance and berket—I pose the same question to you that I did to Nathaniel. This is one piece in going after the bureaucracy. In that light, are you open to it?

  20. BrentB67

    I am a Mark Levin fan and I haven’t read this latest book, but the idea that we solve our self inflicted wounds with more laws/amendments is a lazy fool’s pursuit.

    Bereket’s Member Feed post summarizes the problem as best I’ve seen. The problem isn’t the Constitution – the problem is us.