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U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thorton

Citation. 514 U.S. 779, 115 S. Ct. 1842, 131 L. Ed. 2d 881, 1995 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Arkansas State Constitution contained an amendment limiting the number of terms federal Congressional and Senatorial candidates from Arkansas could serve. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the amendment was unconstitutional.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) does not reserve rights for the States that were not within the original powers of the States.


An amendment to the Arkansas State Constitution prohibited an otherwise-eligible candidate for Congress from appearing on the election ballot, if that candidate had already served three terms in the House of Representatives or two in the Senate. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the amendment was unconstitutional. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court (Supreme Court).


Can individual states add additional requirements for election to Congress other than those found in the Constitution?


No. Judgment affirmed.
Arkansas claimed the Tenth Amendment and the principle of reserved powers allow the States to add qualifications that Congressional candidates elected within the State must meet.
The Supreme Court found that the power to add such qualifications was not within the “original powers” of the States because no such right existed before the enactment of the Constitution. Therefore, the Tenth Amendment did not reserve this right for the States. Additionally, the Supreme Court found that the Framers intended the Constitution to be the sole source of qualifications for members of Congress, thereby divesting the States of any power to add qualifications.
Arkansas also argued that the amendment is not a qualification, but rather an acceptable use of the State’s power to regulate the “Times, Places, and Manner of Holding Elections” under Article I. The Supreme Court found this Article only allowed the States to create procedural regulations, not to exclude classes of candidates.


The States can exercise all powers that the Constitution does not withhold from them. The Constitution is silent on the issue of prescribing eligibility requirements for elected federal officials. Therefore, the States retain the power to add election requirements for federal officials within the state.
Concurrence. A relationship between the people of the Nation and the National Government exists. The States may not interfere with this relationship. The Arkansas amendment attempts to do just that and is therefore unconstitutional.


The conflicting opinions of the majority and the dissent represent a common theme in Constitutional law, the attempt to balance federalism with state rig

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