Advocates of Term Limits Lose Round I in US Court

AFTER losing a court ruling last week, advocates of congressional term limits say they are not defeated and will file an appeal as early as today.

The case in question involves a Washington State law but is being watched nationwide because it could become the first such case to go to the Supreme Court. Voters in 15 states have passed similar measures since 1990, several of which are being litigated.

The Washington State law, passed by voters in 1992, would bar from the state ballot congressmen who seek reelection after serving three consecutive terms in the House or two consecutive terms in the Senate.

The measure was challenged by House Speaker Thomas Foley (D), who's served 16 consecutive terms from Washington State.

Siding with Mr. Foley, Judge William Dwyer of the United States District Court in Seattle ruled last week that ``a state may not diminish its voters' constitutional freedom of choice by making would-be candidates for Congress ineligible on the basis of incumbency or history of congressional service.''

But that ruling does not spell immediate doom for the term-limits movement.

``We think we'll win'' when a case gets to the Supreme Court, says Paul Jacob, executive director of the advocacy group US Term Limits in Washington, D.C. The group was involved in defending the Washington State law.

Mr. Jacob says, ultimately, ``This issue is not going to be decided in court.... Politicians are making a big mistake to put all their eggs in a legal basket.'' If enough public support builds, a constitutional amendment is possible, although that would require support from Congress itself. ``I think you're going to see a lot of congressional races that hinge'' on the term-limits issue, Jacob says.

The Constitution imposes three clear qualifications for Congress - based on age, state residency, and citizenship. These ``minimum'' qualifications do not prevent states from enacting further rules, Jacob argues.

Judge Dwyer allowed that states may set additional ground rules for the purpose of ``order and fairness,'' such as that candidates reside in a certain district within the state. But he said the Washington State law has a different and unconstitutional motive - ``preventing a disfavored group of candidates from being elected at all.''

The measure actually would allow long-term incumbents to be reelected as write-in candidates, but Dwyer said this provision was insufficient.

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