Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y.
As Inauguration Day approaches and Barack Obama prepares to assume his first term as president, some in Congress are hoping to make it possible for the Democrat to not only seek a second term in office, but a third and fourth as well.
The U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary is considering a bill that would repeal the Constitution’s 22nd Amendment prohibiting a president from being elected to more than two terms in office.
Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., earlier this month introduced the bill, H. J. Res. 5, which, according to the bill’s language, proposes “an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as President.”
In the past, some presidents have been critical of the 22nd Amendment, including Eisenhower, Clinton and Reagan.
In 1807 Thomas Jefferson, however, warned that presidents not bound by term limits could use their popularity and power to become kings.
“If some termination to the services of the chief magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution or supplied in practice,” Jefferson wrote to the Legislature of Vermont, “his office, nominally for years, will in fact become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance.”
Presidential term limits, however, were not “fixed by the Constitution” until ratification of the 22nd Amendment. Congress passed the Amendment on March 21, 1947, shortly after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first and only president to be elected to more than two terms – in Roosevelt’s case, four. The Amendment was ratified by the required number of states on Feb. 26, 1951.
The 22nd Amendment states, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.”
The Amendment limits presidents to a maximum of eight years in office – or, under unusual circumstances, such as succession following the death of a president, a maximum of ten years in office. Should Rep. Serrano succeed in repealing the Amendment, Obama would be cleared to run for an unlimited number of terms, restricted only by the vote of the electorate.
In order to achieve repeal of the 22nd Amendment, Serrano’s proposal must be approved by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and ratified by three-quarters of the states’ legislatures.
H. J. Res. 5 is not the first attempt by Serrano to repeal the 22nd Amendment. In 2003, Serrano introduced H. J. Res. 11 to the 108th Congress to accomplish the same purpose. A similar resolution, H.J. Res. 25, was also proposed the same year and received co-sponsorship from a bipartisan group of six other representatives. During Reagan’s term of office, Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, R-Mich., repeatedly proposed a repeal of the 22nd Amendment.
At the current time, H.J. Res. 5 has not tallied any cosponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.
Prior to Franklin Roosevelt, presidents honored the precedent established by George Washington, who – though widely popular – refused to run for a third term of office.
Thomas Jefferson, who became the second vice president of the U.S. after Washington declined to run for a third term and who then later became the third president, not only affirmed following the Washington’s example, but also foresaw the eventual passage of the 22nd Amendment.
“General Washington set the example of voluntary retirement after eight years,” Jefferson wrote in an 1805 letter to John Taylor. “I shall follow it, and a few more precedents will oppose the obstacle of habit to anyone after a while who shall endeavor to extend his term. Perhaps it may beget a disposition to establish it by an amendment of the Constitution.”
In the same letter to the Legislature of Vermont where he warned of a presidential monarchy, Jefferson further explained why he refused to run for a third term.
“Believing that a representative government, responsible at short periods of election, is that which produces the greatest sum of happiness to mankind,” Jefferson wrote, “I feel it a duty to do no act which shall essentially impair that principle; and I should unwillingly be the person who, disregarding the sound precedent set by an illustrious predecessor, should furnish the first example of prolongation beyond the second term of office.”
WND attempted to contact Rep. Serrano about his reasons and argument for repeal of the 22nd Amendment, but phone calls to his communications director were not returned.