This case presents a challenge to an amendment to the Arkansas State Constitution that prohibits the name of an otherwise-eligible candidate for Congress from appearing on the general election ballot if that candidate has already served three terms in the House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate.
The power to add qualifications is not within the original powers of the States, and thus is not reserved to the States by the Tenth Amendment. Even if States possessed some original power in this area, the Framers intended the Constitution to be the exclusive source of qualifications for members of Congress, and that the Framers thereby divested States of any power to add qualifications.
In 1992, the voters of Arkansas adopted amendment to their State Constitution. The amendment limited terms of elected officials within the Arkansas state government and any person who served two or more terms as a member of the Senate from Arkansas would be ineligible for re-election as a U.S Senator from Arkansas. The constitutionality of the amendment depends critically on the resolution of two distinct issues. The first is whether the Constitution forbids States from adding to or altering the qualifications specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The second is, if the Constitution does so forbid, whether the fact that the amendment is formulated as a ballot access restriction rather than as an outright disqualification is of constitutional significance.
Does the amendment to the Arkansas State Constitution – that prohibits the name of an otherwise-eligible candidate for Congress from appearing on the general election ballot if that candidate has already served three terms in the House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate – violate the Constitution?
Yes, such a state-imposed restriction is contrary to the fundamental principle of our representative democracy, embodied in the Constitution, that the people should choose whom they please to govern them. Allowing individual States to adopt their own qualifications for congressional service would be inconsistent with the Framers‘ vision of a uniform Congress representing the people of the United States.
Nothing in the Constitution deprives the people of each State of the power to prescribe eligibility requirements for the candidates who seek to represent them in Congress. The Constitution is simply silent on this question. And where the Constitution is silent, it raises no bar to action by the States or the people. Moreover, current federal law confers numerous advantages on incumbents, and these advantages are widely thought to make it significantly more difficult for challengers to defeat them. In addition, the internal rules of Congress put a substantial premium on seniority, with the result that each member’s already plentiful opportunities to distribute benefits to his constituents increase with the length of his tenure.
Permitting individual States to formulate diverse qualifications for their representatives would result in a patchwork of state qualifications, undermining the uniformity and the national character that the Framers sought to ensure. The amendment is an indirect attempt to accomplish what the Constitution prohibits Arkansas from accomplishing directly. The intent and the effect of the amendment are to disqualify congressional incumbents from further service. An amendment with the purpose and obvious effect of evading the requirements of the Constitution by handicapping a class of candidates cannot stand.