There is no limit to the number of terms for which a person can be elected to the U.S. Congress. Article I, Sections 2 and 3 of the U.S. Constitution list the qualifications to serve in the Senate and House of Representatives. The Constitution calls for two-year terms for representatives and six-year terms for senators, but places no restrictions on how many terms members of the U.S. Congress may serve.
U.S. Term Limits Vs. Thornton
Prior to 1995, some states placed limits on the number of terms a senator or representative could serve. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned those laws – and all laws adding eligibility requirements for members of Congress beyond those spelled out in the Constitution – in the case of U.S. Term Limits vs.Thornton. The decision was split 5-4 with Justice John Paul Stevens writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writing a concurring opinion – agreeing with the decision, but differing from the majority in his reasoning -- and Justice Clarence Thomas writing the dissenting opinion. This decision stipulates that the only legal way to impose term limits on members of the U.S. Congress is to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Citizen Legislature Act
Several attempts have been made to impose term limits on members of Congress, dating back to Thomas Jefferson's suggestion that congressional term limits be added to Constitution shortly after it was ratified. Congressional term limits were part of the Republican Party's "Contract with America" platform in 1994. Republicans introduced the "Citizen Legislature Act," which proposed to limit all members of congress to 12 years of service, in the following congressional session. It passed in the House of Representatives, but lacked the two-thirds super-majority required for a constitutional amendment.
Recent Proposed Amendment
In 2009, several Republican senators, led by Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, introduced a bill to limit senators to two terms and representatives to three terms. The measure was voted down by a wide margin in the U.S. Senate in 2011. The idea of congressional term limits continues to be debated, but under current judicial understanding, no actual changes can be made to congressional eligibility requirements without amending the Constitution – a process that would require two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the country's state legislatures.
Most Terms Actually Served
The longest tenure of any U.S. Representative is that of Rep. John D. Dingell, Jr., a Michigan Democrat who first ran for the congressional seat that had been vacated by his father's death in 1955. As of November 2013, Dingell Jr. is serving his 29th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. The longest-serving U.S. Senator was Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who was elected to nine terms beginning in 1958. Byrd died in 2010, half way through his ninth term.
- The Charters of Freedom: The Constitution of the United States
- Congressman Jim McDermott: Understanding Congress
- Washington Post Politics: Your Questions about Congress Answered
- CNN Politics: GOP Senators Push for Term Limits
- The New York Times: Excerpts From the Supreme Court's Decision in Term-Limits Case
- University of Maryland: Republican Contract with America
- The New York Times: From ‘a Child of the House’ to Longest-Serving Member
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: Byrd, Robert Carlyle, (1917 - 2010)
- House.gov: Congressman John Dingell
- Colonial Williamsburg: One of the Most Intriguing Might-Have-Beens in American History
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