During a visit with Forrest Mandeville, candidate for Montana Secretary of State, a very nice caller asked if he would follow the Montana Constitution on U.S. Congressional term limits.  When Mr. Mandeville stated no because that was against the U.S. Constitution, the caller said that didn’t matter because it’s in the Montana Constitution.

This deserves some documentation. Homework time!

The caller cited Article IV, Section  of the Montana Constitution (I cut out subsections a, b, c):

Section 8. Limitation on terms of office. (1) The secretary of state or other authorized official shall not certify a candidate's nomination or election to, or print or cause to be printed on any ballot the name of a candidate for, one of the following offices if, at the end of the current term of that office, the candidate will have served in that office or had he not resigned or been recalled would have served in that office:
(d) 6 or more years in any 12-year period as a member of the U.S. house of representatives; and
(e) 12 or more years in any 24-year period as a member of the U.S. senate.

 

The Constitution of the United States of America includes the 22nd Amendment, stating “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.” But there is no term limit documentation for Representatives or Senators in the U.S. Constitution.

So the Montana Constitution can fill in the gap just for the state’s congresspeople, right?

No.

Mr. Mandeville cited U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995). In the Opinion of the Court, with a 5-4 decision, Justice Stevens wrote:

We are, however, firmly convinced that allowing the several states to adopt term limits for congressional service would effect a fundamental change in the constitutional framework. Any such change must come not by legislation adopted either by Congress or by an individual State, but rather—as have other important changes in the electoral process—through the amendment procedures set forth in Article V. The Framers decided that the qualifications for service in the Congress of the United States be fixed in the Constitution and be uniform throughout the Nation. That decision reflects the Framers’ understanding that Members of Congress are chosen by separate constituencies, but that they become, when elected, servants of the people of the United States. They are not merely delegates appointed by separate, sovereign States; they occupy offices that are integral and essential components of a single National Government. In the absence of a properly passed constitutional amendment, allowing individual States to craft their own qualifications for Congress would thus erode the structure envisioned by the Framers, a structure that was designed, in the words of the Preamble to our Constitution, to form a “more perfect Union.”

(pp. 837-838)

This decision from the Supreme Court invalidates (d) and (e) of Article 4, Section 8 of the Montana Constitution.

Now I know why lawyers are needed. Gotta keep track of all these laws and court decisions.

The U.S. Constitution being the supreme law of the land, over all state constitutions, is probably a good thing. Otherwise, any state could overrule a right through its constitution. Can a state rescind your right to bear arms just because you live there? Can a state establish an official religion, overruling the 1st amendment?

Yep, I think I can live with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, thank you very much.