Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore on Term Limits

Benjamin Franklin once said, “In free governments the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter is not to degrade, but to promote them.”

Our founding fathers understood that public service was just that, service for the public good. It was not a professional job or occupation loaded with fringe benefits and emoluments unworthy of such service. Nevertheless, many serving in our legislative branch of government in Alabama today no longer reflect a servant’s mentality. Public office has become a full time job together with expense accounts, salaries, staff, and many other benefits.

Furthermore, those serving in the Alabama legislature have become accustomed to the influence of special interest lobbyists who provide meals, entertainment, and other favors not commonly associated with public service. But nothing is free and lobbyists acting on behalf of their own special interest expect and subsequently receive undue consideration on issues which come before the legislature. Legislators, anxious to please those who treat them with such unusual generosity, often sponsor bills written by lobbyists who nurture a close relationship.

Lobbyists, who outnumber our legislators by a 4 to 1 margin, have far more influence over laws passed by the legislature than does the ordinary citizen. The laws which are passed are most often in the best interest of a special interest group and not the people of Alabama.

Such a system was never envisioned by those who wrote our Constitution. One way to address this problem is by consecutive term limits.

Term limits effectively reduce the extent to which special interest has control over the legislature by eliminating long term relationships between the legislator and lobbyist. By requiring regular changes in the makeup of the legislature it is more difficult for a particular special interest to establish control over a significant number of legislators.

Term limits also force the legislator to return to his community and become subject to those laws he passes. George Mason, the Father of our Bill of Rights, once said, “Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens.”

Article V, section 116 (formerly Amendment 282) of the 1901 Constitution of Alabama already limits the terms of the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and commissioner of agriculture and industries to no more than 2 consecutive terms in any one office. To extend this requirement to members of our legislature would be neither unwise or unfair. Fifteen other states presently have term limits for their legislative body.

A proposed provision for the legislature of Alabama consistent with the provision imposed on other constitutional officers in this state might read:

“Each member of the House of Representatives and the Senate shall be eligible to succeed himself in office, but no member shall be eligible to succeed himself for more than one additional term.”

Such a provision would stop any legislator from serving 3 consecutive terms in the same office, but would allow a legislator to return following a one term break after serving 2 consecutive terms.

Such a bill would certainly be opposed by lobbyists and would not likely be acceptable to those who have become accustomed to the legislature as a profession.

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