It’s term to change government: why implementing term limits in government is necessary

Its term to change government: why implementing term limits in government is necessary

You are a pilot at American Airlines; you have been there for the last 40 years of your life. Now, in your advanced age, you can no longer handle the plane like you used to. Lives are at risk each time you take control of the cockpit, and, perhaps, with your decreased senses, you might not be the best option to fly anymore. Despite that, you keep flying, and you grow older and older. As you look around your seat, perusing the controls, sifting your wrinkled hands over the endless knobs and buttons, you seem to forget what all of these are for. Is it time for you to step down and let a younger, sharper pilot take your place? Thankfully, pilots are required to retire once they reach 65 years of age. This may seem unfair to some sharper, older flyers, but this helps stop very preventable accidents that come from a lapse in judgment or a careless mistake.

 Should age really be the determinant of a person’s mental well-being, though?

Even at an older age, someone can be just as competent as a younger person. Ageism — a discriminatory practice that segregates people of older ages from the younger generations — is equally as important to address as racism, sexism, ableism and xenophobia. 

Competency and incompetency in older government leaders

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In the United States executive, legislative and judicial branches, many current and former members have served at advanced ages. In the legislative branch — which consists of the Senate who serve six-year terms and the House of Representatives who serve two-year terms, collectively forming the Congress — Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., served until her death at 90 years old. After remaining absent due to shingles, Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate at the time, had to be continuously prodded by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to vote “aye” on the Defense Appropriations Bill in July 2023. Similarly, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who plans to finish his term until it expires in January 2027, displayed countless instances of incompetence due to his advanced age. In August 2023, McConnell froze and appeared perplexed during a Capitol Hill news conference. After being asked by his Republican colleagues if he was OK, McConnell had to be escorted by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. Yet, this was not the first occasion where McConnell demonstrated an inability to function; he slipped on ice prior to a meeting in Finland, he acquired a concussion and broken ribs due to a fall at the Waldorf Astoria in Washington, and he fell while departing from a plane at Reagan National Airport in Washington. Ultimately, these injuries prevented him from working for several weeks. This begs the question: why does he remain in office? The answer is simple. The vast majority of politicians remain unwilling to step down from their positions — regardless of whether their age proves a deterrent to their work — due to their desire for status and wealth. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Supreme Court Justice, served until her death at 87 years old. Amid her endless accomplishments, Ginsburg — like countless other politicians — was blinded by the incentives of status and wealth in choosing to remain on the Supreme Court beyond Barack Obama’s presidency. Despite being aware of her persisting illnesses, her reluctance to step down under Obama allowed President Donald J. Trump to replace her with conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, versus allowing Obama to nominate a liberal judge as many of her colleagues desired. 

Despite advanced age, some government officials seem mentally capable. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., speaks coherently and competently. He frequently inserts himself as a leading voice of progressive reforms in the Senate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also appears competent in office. Sanders, Warren and other members break the stereotype that age directly results in lesser abilities for all.

The problem with age limits and the solution

Preventing people from running for office at a certain age would limit the freedom of American citizens to choose whoever they want to represent themselves. If it is decided that an 80-year-old candidate is more qualified and suitable than a 35-year-old, we must respect the people’s choice. The government runs through the people, and their choices must be followed, not limited. The age requirements of 35 years for the president, 30 years for the Senate and 25 years for the House of Representatives are rational and beneficial, however, because a great deal of experience and trust must be held before entering such important positions. These can only be attained through years of working with the people and years of learning how to work within the government.

While age can certainly play a part in decreased competence, it would be discriminatory and undemocratic to bar people from participating in the government upon reaching a specific age. Still, there are numerous politicians who, because of their age, are incompetent to such an extent that their advisers are forced to spoon-feed every single action and statement to them. To fix the issue of incompetence that comes from age, a limit of a maximum of 24 years in office for members of Congress and 24 years in office for Supreme Court Justices should be imposed. Senators can serve four terms, each of six years, and representatives can serve 12 terms, each of two years; members of the Supreme Court can serve one term for a maximum of 24 years. 

The reality behind incumbency

The controversial idea of implementing term limits for members of Congress and the Supreme Court has emerged for decades. Many critics claim that people should be voting for younger candidates, and if voters were not so reckless and uneducated, perhaps there would be younger, more capable politicians in the government. While some of these remarks may hold true — and, after all, it would certainly help if voters took the time to truly understand the beliefs of different candidates before impulsively deciding on voting for one of them — there is more to this process than simply being less “reckless” and “uneducated.”

The reality is, our current election system has made it virtually impossible for a challenger to defeat an incumbent. In 2022, the reelection rate for senators was 100%; the reelection rate for representatives was 94.5%. Why? Countless factors benefit the incumbent, but financial advantages, name recognition and gerrymandering are the most common. Since committees and lobbyists have incentives to donate to incumbents, the latter receives excess funding for commercials, websites, air time and electoral consultants. On the other hand, a challenger, who likely possesses less experience and supporters, will not appeal to donors to the same extent as incumbents. Since incumbents are already prominent figures in politics and attend events likely advertised on television, voters will be exposed to them, making the incumbent’s name more recognizable on the ballot. Perhaps the most impactful component of elections that favors the incumbent, although only in the House of Representatives, is gerrymandering. Gerrymandering refers to the act of resetting district boundaries in a way that gives one political party an advantage over another when representatives are elected. Gerrymandering affects solely representatives because the electorate only votes for the one representative of their district, and, depending on how the boundary is manipulated for their district, one party may be more likely to win the election. For an incumbent in a highly gerrymandered district, it becomes virtually impossible to lose to a challenger of a different political party, and they will stay in power unless they lose their district’s primary election.

Nonetheless, gerrymandering is a significant problem that influences elections, regardless of whether it only impacts the House. While reforming the current system and providing the challenger with greater odds to defeat the incumbent would be ideal, it is unrealistic. Committees and lobbyists will not suddenly fund the challenger when the incumbent is the clear favorite. Challengers will not suddenly find enough money to pay for advertisements at the same rate as incumbents. Voters will not suddenly consider voting for the challenger; they will see the incumbent on television and vote for them. Voters will use the fact that the incumbent already has experience, and they will vote for the incumbent. As for gerrymandering, since the practice is only considered illegal if districts are divided based on race, the act of state legislators intentionally structuring districts to favor a particular political party over another will likely continue. Therefore, the most effective and realistic method to resolve the incompetency of most aging politicians — since age limits are discriminatory and reforms to reelection are unrealistic — is to implement term limits. 

Why 24 years?

In order to ensure that new, more competent members of Congress are elected, a maximum of 24 years in office must be implemented. By preventing members of Congress from serving beyond 24 years, a citizen legislature will be restored with fresh faces and ideas entering office. Amid the various conflicts our country currently faces, as Congress remains in a state of inertia and corruption, it seems as though there is no better time to introduce politicians in Congress who will tackle these problems from a different perspective — and, perhaps, a better one. Additionally, the four-term and 12-term restrictions for the Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively, will prohibit lobbyists from developing extended, corrupt relationships with Congressional members. Former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff managed to convince politicians, through gifts and job offers, for their votes on legislation and tax breaks favorable to his clients. The 2005 scandal — which ultimately resulted in Abramoff pleading guilty to corrupting public officials, tax evasion and fraud — revolved around providing members of Congress with access to private jets, luxurious vacations, free meals, etc. By imposing term limits, however, the likelihood of corruption through scandals between lobbyists and Congress such as Abrmoff’s decreases significantly. This implementation of term limits would also contribute toward resolving the incumbent predicament. After all, if uncompromising, aging incumbents are the reason for incompetency, the most logical resolution to mitigate this ongoing pattern is to make them legally ineligible to be reelected. Term limits would instead allow more elections to be winnable and competitive due to the additional seats and options available. Our country has dealt with incompetent members of Congress at an advanced age for long enough; it is time America tackles this problem through the aforementioned term limits policy.

Why does this affect the Supreme Court?

On average, a Supreme Court Justice is appointed at 53 years old. A 24-year limit allows a justice to serve for a considerable portion of time while still leaving office before the effects of aging become apparent, which the National Institutes of Health labels as 70 years old. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was 51 when appointed in 2022 and Neil Gorsuch, appointed in 2017, was 49 years old. Justice Amy Coney Barrett was 48 when she was appointed in 2020 and Justice Clarence Thomas was 43 years old when he was appointed in 1991. With a 24-year term limit, these justices would all be at reasonable ages, unimpeded by the effects of aging at the end of their terms. Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia impose a mandatory retirement age on appellate court justices. 18 of these states set the limit at the age of 70. This practice is discriminatory to elderly justices who still maintain mental clarity. However, it helps protect the justice system from senile and incompetent judges who have had problems as a direct result of the effects of aging. Also, the 24-year limit prevents presidents from appointing younger, more inexperienced judges in an attempt to maintain an ideological hold over the highest court.

It would be impractical to create an election system for Supreme Court justices, as the Senate votes on them, and subsequent elections would resolve solely based on the current majority in the chamber. A conservative Senate would never reelect a liberal judge and vice versa. More importantly, if members of the Supreme Court served multiple terms, they would likely make biased rulings in order to appease the majority party in the Senate where they are voted on. On the other hand, receiving one term of 24 years allows Supreme Court Justices to remain impartial. A single term for these justices would, therefore, be the only reasonable solution for limiting the number of years a judge can serve.


Imagine the legislative and judicial branches consisting of fresh faces and ideas frequently entering office, with the ability to function without acting as puppets for their advisers. A government where the chances of incumbents continuously winning decreases. A government where corruption between politicians and lobbyists is less likely to ensue. A government where Supreme Court justices are not granted the power of serving for life. A government with politicians who are physically and mentally able to vote “aye,” or speak in public without freezing, or walk on ice without slipping and receiving a concussion or broken ribs. Unfortunately, the United States does not currently have this form of government. However, it is not too late. There has never been a more pressing time to act than now. A maximum of 24 years in office for members of Congress and the Supreme Court — with a maximum of four terms in the Senate, 12 terms in the House of Representatives and one term in the Supreme Court — will enable our country to come together and move forward as one. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.” The term limit proposal may present some cons, but this implementation is the most logical and beneficial option available if we hope to attain a better government for all people.

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  • J

    Jayne FeldApr 27, 2024 at 7:35 pm

    This should be a must-read article for anybody studying American history!

  • B

    Ben SautterApr 18, 2024 at 9:50 pm

    Well written, good work fellas

  • L

    Lee BloomApr 18, 2024 at 9:37 pm

    Very insightful!!