U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 18 (1995)

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Opinion of the Court

power to add qualifications. Powell, however, is not susceptible to such a narrow reading. Our conclusion that Congress may not alter or add to the qualifications in the Constitution was integral to our analysis and outcome. See, e. g., id., at 540 (noting "Framers' understanding that the qualifications for members of Congress had been fixed in the Constitution"). Only two Terms ago we confirmed this understanding of Powell in Nixon v. United States, 506 U. S. 224 (1993). After noting that the three qualifications for membership specified in Art. I, 2, are of "a precise, limited nature" and "unalterable by the legislature," we explained:

"Our conclusion in Powell was based on the fixed meaning of '[q]ualifications' set forth in Art. I, 2. The claim by the House that its power to 'be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members' was a textual commitment of unreviewable authority was defeated by the existence of this separate provision specifying the only qualifications which might be imposed for House membership." Id., at 237.12

12 Justice Thomas' dissent purports to agree with the outcome of Powell, but rejects the reasoning in the opinion. The dissent treats Powell as simply an application of the "default rule" that if "the Constitution is silent about the exercise of a particular power—that is, where the Constitution does not speak either expressly or by necessary implication—the Federal Government lacks that power and the States enjoy it." Post, at 848, 876, 885-886. However, there is not a word in the Court's opinion in Powell suggesting that the decision rested on the "default rule" that undergirds the dissent's entire analysis. On the contrary, as the excerpt from Nixon quoted in the text plainly states, our conclusion in Powell was based on our understanding of the "fixed meaning of '[q]ualifications' set forth in Art. I, 2." We concluded that the Framers affirmatively intended the qualifications set forth in the text of the Constitution to be exclusive in order to effectuate the principle that in a representative democracy the people should choose whom they please to govern them.

Moreover, the Court has never treated the dissent's "default rule" as absolute. In McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316 (1819), for example, Chief Justice Marshall rejected the argument that the Constitution's silence on state power to tax federal instrumentalities requires that States

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