U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 15 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 779 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

respect to Congress, the Framers intended the Constitution to establish fixed qualifications.9

Powell's Reliance on Democratic Principles

In Powell, of course, we did not rely solely on an analysis of the historical evidence, but instead complemented that analysis with "an examination of the basic principles of our democratic system." Id., at 548. We noted that allowing Congress to impose additional qualifications would violate that "fundamental principle of our representative democracy . . . 'that the people should choose whom they please to govern them.' " Id., at 547, quoting 2 Elliot's Debates 257 (A. Hamilton, New York).

Our opinion made clear that this broad principle incorporated at least two fundamental ideas.10 First, we empha-9 The text of the Qualifications Clauses also supports the result we reached in Powell. John Dickinson of Delaware observed that the enumeration of a few qualifications "would by implication tie up the hands of the Legislature from supplying omissions." 2 Farrand 123. Justice Story made the same point:

"It would seem but fair reasoning upon the plainest principles of interpretation, that when the constitution established certain qualifications, as necessary for office, it meant to exclude all others, as prerequisites. From the very nature of such a provision, the affirmation of these qualifications would seem to imply a negative of all others." 1 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 625 (3d ed. 1858) (hereinafter Story). See also Warren 421 ("As the Constitution . . . expressly set forth the qualifications of age, citizenship, and residence, and as the Convention refused to grant to Congress power to establish qualifications in general, the maxim expressio unius exclusio alterius would seem to apply").

As Dickinson's comment demonstrates, the Framers were well aware of the expressio unius argument that would result from their wording of the Qualifications Clauses; they adopted that wording nonetheless. There thus is no merit either to the dissent's suggestion that Story was the first to articulate the expressio unius argument, see post, at 868-869, or to the dissent's assertion that that argument is completely without merit.

10 The principle also incorporated the more practical concern that reposing the power to adopt qualifications in Congress would lead to a self-perpetuating body to the detriment of the new Republic. See, e. g.,


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