What Are Term Limits?

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Term limits are restrictions on how long a particular person can serve in a political office. Term limits can be expressed in the number of terms in office or years of service. Term limits can also specify whether a person may serve in the same office once term limits have been reached and the individual has laid out of an election cycle.

Why Are Term Limits‚Äč Imposed?

Term limits are imposed so that one person cannot hold an office for life and so a variety of people can serve.

Proponents of term limits point to lifetime members of Congress as examples of why term limits are preferable to no term limits. Congress members who face little re-election competition appear to term limit proponents as unresponsive to voters and susceptible to the temptation of corruption.

Opponents of term limits say term limits force out good politicians with the bad, unnecessarily limit voter choice and increase the power of lobbyists and bureaucrats. Term limits also reduce the institutional knowledge that elected officials can build up. For instance, an elected official limited to two four-year terms cannot know precisely why a law enacted 10 years earlier was passed.

Examples of Term Limits

  • The 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution limits the President to serving 10 years in office. The amendment was ratified in 1951. Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only President to have served more than two four-year terms. He served more than 12 years before dying in office.
  • Ancient Athenians who served on the Boule were limited to two annual terms in a lifetime. They could only head that governing body for one term.