Sen. Buck has introduced SJR 2 and Sen. Young has introduced SJR 10, both urging constitutional conventions under Article 5 of the United States Constitution. In relevant part, Article 5 provides, “The Congress … on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.” SJR 2 wants a convention for the purpose of making a nine justice Supreme Court a constitutional requirement while SJR 10 wants a convention for the purpose of considering term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate.
The text of SJR 10 purports to limit its application to the consideration of term limits and for no other purpose. The text of SJR 2 proposes specific language for a Constitutional amendment. As I said back in 2014 when they were proposing a convention to address the national debt (because the national debt is a matter vital concern during Democratic Presidential administrations), this is opening a can of worms. Nothing in the text of Article 5 suggests that there are limitations on the amendments that may be proposed by a Convention once convened. “Revolutions often get away from their bourgeois instigators. Once a Constitutional Convention was opened up, I would anticipate radical factions taking over.”
The Supreme Court amendment is an effort to make the number of Supreme Court Justices a constitutional matter rather than a statutory concern as the Founders originally envisioned. Changes to the number of Justices were not uncommon during the country’s first century. Congress initially set the number at seven Justices where it remained from 1789 – 1807. (In 1801, the number was reduced to 5 but in 1802 that change was negated before it ever took effect.) In 1807, the number was increased to seven members. In 1837, the number was increased to nine. In 1863, the number was increased to 10. In 1866, the number was reduced to seven contingent on vacancies but in 1869, the number was set at nine before all of the vacancies took effect. Since then, there have been the nine justices, although there was a move toward expansion under FDR when ideologues on the court resisted Congressional New Deal efforts. The “switch in time that saved nine” was the quip about how the Supreme Court was able to stay at nine justices when their jurisprudence became more accommodating toward New Deal initiatives.
The term limit amendment does not specify a particular limit for the number of terms that a member of Congress may serve. I generally regard term limits as a specious solution to perceived governmental dysfunction. After all, plenty of the newer members are as bad or worse than older members — many of whom honestly seem to want to be responsive to their constituents. It’s an easy and superficial way to be mad at government generally without having to get into specific policy details which will often bore the ordinary citizens and might prompt them to realize that “Hey! I don’t hate *that* part of government!” Ultimately, short term limits would give more power to lobbyists and bureaucrats who have had time to understand the twists and turns in the government structure. New arrivals would be at a disadvantage and the lobbyists could generally just wait out any difficult members who got elected. That said, I could probably get on board with a term limit that was long enough. McConnell’s been in the Senate for 35 years, Leahy for 45 years. Pelosi has been in the House for 33 years, Don Young has been there for 47 years, and three House members you’ve mostly never heard of have been there for 40 years. A twenty-five year term limit wouldn’t give me any serious heartburn, I don’t think. That’d be about 7% of each chamber: ~30 of the 435 House members and seven of the 100 Senate members. Not sure that’s worth the bother of a Constitutional Convention.