Friday, December 02, 2005

Term Limits Head to the Courts

by Kyle Michaelis
It's official. Nebraska's legislative term limits have been challenged. To the courts we go....

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Three state senators and a group of voters filed a lawsuit with the Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday challenging the constitutionality of term limits on lawmakers approved by voters.

Sens. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, Dennis Byars of Beatrice and Marian Price of Lincoln were joined by six voters in the action.

They allege that term limits violate their First Amendment free speech and association rights and 14th Amendment equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.

They petitioned to bypass the lower courts and file their case directly with the high court. It was not known when the high court would rule on the request....

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the voters by Lincoln attorney Alan Peterson, who does not represent the senators.

The lawsuit attacks the very language of the constitutional amendment, which says lawmakers shall not be “eligible to serve” after two terms.

The amendment goes on to define a term as “service in office for more than one-half of a term.”

“If the wording of the Nebraska constitutional term limits ... is in fact literally applied, then already some 20 Nebraska state senators have been serving for almost a year while ineligible,” Peterson wrote. “At midterm plus one day or so of the service by senators elected in 2004 — in other words, in the first week of January 2007 — many additional senators will reach ineligibility.

“Senators Byars and Price are right now vulnerable to disqualification as they are beyond the middle of their second term,” he said. “They appear to be ineligible even to finish out their present four-year terms.”

Well, this last week, I've said just about all I'm going to on this, here, and most importantly HERE (with a little help from my "friends"). After all that, it may be a good long while before I again type the words "term" and "limits" in close proximity.

Not that I don't enjoy a lively discussion (I did, very much so), but - pardon my mixed metaphor - once the horse is no longer kicking, it's time to tap-out.

Still, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out, especially with the clock ticking as we come so close to the registration deadline and primary. Pity this challenge wasn't begun a year ago that the courts might have considered the case without the added pressure of these fast-approaching elections. Regardless of how the courts ultimately decide, I couldn't blame them in the slightest if they washed their hands of the 2006 election, erring on the side of the state constitution as written to the detriment of the challenging incumbents.

Senators Byars and Price have undoubtedly thrown a bit of chaos into the electoral mix and, right now, I don't know quite what to expect - particularly with the off-chance that other previously-thought term-limited Senators might be rethinking their not-so-voluntary retirement from public life. But, I've had my fill of speculation on the matter (for the moment), though I wouldn't at all mind reading a few more opinions of fellow Nebraskans on the matter.

Post here. Join the debate linked above. Write a letter to the editor. Whatever - both sides are going to claim "the will of the people" on this one (legitimately, might I add). I'd prefer to hear your voice for myself.

Are you outraged at these Senators' audacity? Is it about damn time someone made this challenge? Do you even really care?

Talk hard.


Anonymous Cowpunk said...

I'm kind of ambivalent on this issue. I used to think term limits were a great idea. My general attitude at the time was pretty anti-government. As I've learned more about politics I've realized that political careerism isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've also realized that I had been "spun" by right wing propaganda.

On the other hand, I do think that a frequent infusion of new blood into the government is good for democracy. Then there's the "will of the people" thing. If I had my druthers, I'd say we should limit legislators to four terms instead of two. They'd have time to learn their jobs and make a difference before they're booted out.


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