State to Vote on Age Limit for Congress

Even if North Dakota voters approve, the issue might go to courts
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 16, 2024 5:40 PM CDT
State Measure Would Declare 81 Too Old for Congress
The Capitol is seen in Washington, Thursday, March 14, 2024.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

North Dakota voters will decide in June whether to prevent people from running for Congress if they would reach age 81 during their House or Senate term, the AP reports. A signature drive successfully added the question to the ballot, Secretary of State Michael Howe's office announced Friday, and while some legal scholars say the age limit would be unconstitutional, it could lead to a challenge of a US Supreme Court precedent that has held for decades. Howe said the courts may eventually decide the issue. He cautioned against "a blanket approach," per the North Dakota Monitor.

"I think there are people who are capable of holding office past the age of 80," he said, "and I think there are people who are not capable of it either." The ballot initiative wouldn't prevent current incumbents from running again. The measure could be an attempt to draw a test case to see if the US Supreme Court would allow individual states to set congressional age limits, University of North Dakota political science professor Mark Jendrysik said. The court ruled in a 1995 term limits case that states cannot set qualifications for Congress beyond those listed in the US Constitution, which says candidates must be at least 25 to serve in the House, 30 for the Senate, and 35 to become president. The Constitution sets no maximum age limits.

The measure "looks unconstitutional" under that 1995 decision, said Jason Marisam of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. But a test case against the age limit would need a challenge, most likely from a would-be candidate, Marisam said, which may or may not happen. The chairman of the initiative committee, Jared Hendrix, has said the idea is to avoid cognitive and age-related issues related to elderly officeholders. The measure's push began last summer during age- and health-related scrutiny of members of Congress. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein died last year at 90 after health struggles, and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, 82, froze twice in front of reporters.

(More North Dakota stories.)

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