U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 33 (1995)

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

Opinion of the Court

or alter" state election regulations. Yet under the dissent's approach, the States could achieve exactly the same result by simply setting qualifications for federal office sufficiently high that no one could meet those qualifications. In our view, it is inconceivable that the Framers would provide a specific constitutional provision to ensure that federal elections would be held while at the same time allowing States to render those elections meaningless by simply ensuring that no candidate could be qualified for office. Given the Framers' wariness over the potential for state abuse, we must conclude that the specification of fixed qualifications in the constitutional text was intended to prescribe uniform rules that would preclude modification by either Congress or the States.21

We find further evidence of the Framers' intent in Art. I, 5, cl. 1, which provides: "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members." That Art. I, 5, vests a federal tribunal with ultimate authority to judge a Member's qualifications is fully consistent with the understanding that those qualifications are fixed in the Federal Constitution, but not with the understanding that they can be altered by the States. If the States had the right to prescribe additional qualifications—

21 The dissent's arguments concerning these provisions of the Constitution, see post, at 889-895, simply reinforce our argument that the constitutional provisions surrounding elections all reveal the Framers' basic fear that the States might act to undermine the National Legislature. For example, as the dissent concedes, the Framers feared that States would use the control over salaries to influence the votes of their representative. See post, at 889-890. Similarly, the dissent concedes that the Times, Places and Manner Clause reflects the Framers' fear that States would not conduct federal elections at all. See post, at 894. We believe that the dissent's reading of the provisions at issue understates considerably the extent of the Framers' distrust. However, even under the dissent's reading of the provisions, the text of the Constitution unquestionably reveals the Framers' distrust of the States regarding elections, and thus provides powerful evidence supporting our view that the qualifications established in the Constitution are exclusive.

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