Federal appeals court rejects challenge to Michigan term limits
Not the court's place to intervene on behalf of the legislators
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has rejected the challenge to a Michigan law restricting term limits in the legislature. The Sixth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts.
The court said that more than 20-years ago, the people of Michigan chose a citizen legislature and not a professional one. Now, legislators with years of experience sought to use the federal courts to get around their state's sovereign choice. But it was not the court's place to intervene on their behalf. If they wanted to change the law, they would have to do that at the ballot box
Michigan voters added term limits for state legislators and state executives to their state constitution in 1992. The term limit in the Michigan House of Representatives is six years, while in the Michigan Senate it is eight years. This limitation was challenged after it first took effect, at which time the Sixth Circuit upheld the limitations.
Still, veteran legislators challenged the provisions again in 2020. They claimed that the term limits violated their ballot access and freedom of association rights under certain amendments. They also challenged the limitations under two provisions of the Michigan Constitution. But the Sixth Circuit rejected the challenge.
The court first concluded that it had jurisdiction to hear the case because it raised claims under the Federal Constitution. It then stated that contrary to the legislators' contentions, "rather than keeping eligible candidates off the ballot, like the prototypical ballot-access or freedom-of-association case, term limits restrict eligibility for the office."
The court asserted that candidates did not have a fundamental right to run for office, so it reverted to applying a rational basis. The Sixth Circuit stated that Michigan had several legitimate interests. The foremost was its "sovereign interest in structuring its government as it sees fit."
The appeals court declined supplemental jurisdiction over the state constitution claims, remanding them to the district to be dismissed.