CBSN

Top Court Upholds Term Limits

The Supreme Court today let stand California's term limits law, which bars state lawmakers who reach the limit from ever running again.

The court, without comment, turned away arguments by state legislators and voters who said the measure violates California residents' right to support their chosen candidates. The appeal also argued that voters who approved the measure did not realize they were opting for a lifetime ban.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that term limits cannot be imposed on members of Congress - either by states or by Congress itself - without amending the Constitution. But the court has not said whether states can limit the service of their own state legislators.

Today's action is not a ruling on the merits of California's measure, and therefore sets no national precedent. But it is a major victory for supporters of term limits, nevertheless.

In 1990, California voters adopted Proposition 140, which limits state Assembly members to three two-year terms and state senators to two four-year terms. Those who reach the limit never can seek the same office again.

The measure declared that without term limits, incumbent lawmakers had unfair advantages over other candidates that helped create a "class of career politicians."

The measure led to a complete turnover in the leadership of both houses and led longtime legislators to run for other offices or return to private life. One of the most famous targets of the law, longtime Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, is now mayor of San Francisco.

Twenty-one states have term-limit laws for state legislators. Among them, California and six others - Oregon, Nevada, Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma - have lifetime bans on future candidacies.

A group of lawmakers and voters challenged the California law in federal court, saying such term limits violated their constitutional rights.

A federal judge last year ruled the measure unconstitutional, saying it went too far by imposing a lifetime ban.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also held the limit unconstitutional, but for other reasons. That panel said the proposition did not make clear that it would impose a lifetime ban rather than allow people to run again after spending time out of office.

But the full 9th Circuit court upheld the term limits measure last December, ruling that voters knew the measure imposed a lifetime ban. The limit applies to everyone in a neutral manner and has only a "minimal impact" on the rights of those who challenged it, the appeals court said.

By LAURIE ASSEO, Associated Press Writer. ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed