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U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (93-1456), 514 U.S. 779 (1995).
Dissent
[ Thomas ]
Opinion
[ Stevens ]
Concurrence
[ Kennedy ]
Syllabus
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Nos. 93-1456 and 93-1828


U. S. TERM LIMITS, INC., et al., PETITIONERS 93-1456 v. RAY THORNTON et al. WINSTON BRYANT, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ARKANSAS, PETITIONER 93-1828

on writs of certiorari to the supreme court of arkansas

[May 22, 1995]

Justice Kennedy , concurring.

The majority and dissenting opinions demonstrate the intricacy of the question whether or not the Qualifications Clauses are exclusive. In my view, however, it is well settled that the whole people of the United States asserted their political identity and unity of purpose when they created the federal system. The dissent's course of reasoning suggesting otherwise might be construed to disparage the republican character of the National Government, and it seems appropriate to add these few remarks to explain why that course of argumentation runs counter to fundamental principles of federalism.

Federalism was our Nation's own discovery. The Framers split the atom of sovereignty. It was the genius of their idea that our citizens would have two political capacities, one state and one federal, each

protected from incursion by the other. The resulting Constitution created a legal system unprecedented in form and design, establishing two orders of government, each with its own direct relationship, its own privity, its own set of mutual rights and obligations to the people who sustain it and are governed by it. It is appropriate to recall these origins, which instruct us as to the nature of the two different governments created and confirmed by the Constitution.

A distinctive character of the National Government, the mark of its legitimacy, is that it owes its existence to the act of the whole people who created it. It must be remembered that the National Government too is republican in essence and in theory. John Jay insisted on this point early in The Federalist Papers, in his comments on the government that preceded the one formed by the Constitution.

"To all general purposes we have uniformly been one people; each individual citizen everywhere enjoying the same national rights, privileges, and protection. . . .

"A strong sense of the value and blessings of union induced the people, at a very early period, to institute a federal government to preserve and perpetuate it. They formed it almost as soon as they had a political existence . . . ." The Federalist No. 2, pp. 38-39 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961) (hereinafter The Federalist).

Once the National Government was formed under our Constitution, the same republican principles continued to guide its operation and practice. As James Madison explained, the House of Representatives "derive[s] its powers from the people of America," and "the operation of the government on the people in their individual capacities" makes it "a national government," not merely a federal one. The Federalist No. 39, at 244, 245 (emphasis omitted). The Court confirmed this principle in McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 404-405 (1819), when it said, "The government of the Union, then . . . is, emphatically, and truly, a government of the people. In form and in substance it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them, and are to be exercised directly on them, and for their benefit." The same theory led us to observe as follows in Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 666 (1884): "In a republican government, like ours, . . . political power is reposed in representatives of the entire body of the people."

In one sense it is true that "the people of each State retained their separate political identities," post, at 5, for the Constitution takes care both to preserve the States and to make use of their identities and structures at various points in organizing the federal union. It does not at all follow from this that the sole political identity of an American is with the State of his or her residence. It denies the dual character of the Federal Government which is its very foundation to assert that the people of the United States do not have a political identity as well, one independent of, though consistent with, their identity as citizens of the State of their residence. Cf. post, at 4-6. It must be recognized that " `[f ]or all the great purposes for which the Federal government was formed, we are one people, with one common country.' " Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 630 (1969) (quoting Passenger Cases, 7 How. 283, 492 (1849) (Taney, C. J., dissenting); see Crandall v. Nevada, 6 Wall. 35, 43 (1868) ("The people of these United States constitute one nation" and "have a government in which all of them are deeply interested").

It might be objected that because the States ratified the Constitution, the people can delegate power only through the States or by acting in their capacities as citizens of particular States. See post, at 2-3. But in McCulloch v. Maryland, the Court set forth its authoritative rejection of this idea:

"The Convention which framed the constitution was indeed elected by the State legislatures. But the instrument . . . was submitted to the people. . . . It is true, they assembled in their several States--and where else should they have assembled? No political dreamer was ever wild enough to think of breaking down the lines which separate the States, and of compounding the American people into one common mass. Of consequence, when they act, they act in their States. But the measures they adopt do not, on that account, cease to be the measures of the people themselves, or become the measures of the State governments." 4 Wheat., at 403.

The political identity of the entire people of the Union is reinforced by the proposition, which I take to be beyond dispute, that, though limited as to its objects, the National Government is and must be controlled by the people without collateral interference by the States. McCulloch affirmed this proposition as well, when the Court rejected the suggestion that States could interfere with federal powers. "This was not intended by the American people. They did not design to make their government dependent on the States." Id., at 432. The States have no power, reserved or otherwise, over the exercise of federal authority within its proper sphere. See id., at 430 (where there is an attempt at "usurpation of a power which the people of a single State cannot give," there can be no question whether the power "has been surrendered" by the people of a single State because "[t]he right never existed"). That the States may not invade the sphere of federal sovereignty is as incontestable, in my view, as the corollary proposition that the Federal Government must be held within the boundaries of its own power when it intrudes upon matters reserved to the States. See United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. ___ (1995).

Of course, because the Framers recognized that state power and identity were essential parts of the federal balance, see The Federalist No. 39, the Constitution is solicitous of the prerogatives of the States, even in an otherwise sovereign federal province. The Constitution uses state boundaries to fix the size of congressional delegations, U. S. Const., Art. I, §2, cl. 3, ensures that each State shall have at least one representative, ibid., grants States certain powers over the times, places, and manner of federal elections (subject to congressional revision), Art. I, §4, cl. 1, requires that when the President is elected by the House of Representatives, the delegations from each State have one vote, Art. II, §1, cl. 3, and Amdt. 12, and allows States to appoint electors for the President, Art. II, §1, cl. 2. Nothing in the Constitution or The Federalist Papers, however, supports the idea of state interference with the most basic relation between the National Government and its citizens, the selection of legislative representatives. Indeed, even though the Constitution uses the qualifications for voters of the most numerous branch of the States' own legislatures to set the qualifications of federal electors, Art. I, §2, cl. 1, when these electors vote, we have recognized that they act in a federal capacity and exercise a federal right. Addressing this principle in Ex parte Yarbrough the Court stated as follows: "[T]he right to vote for a member of Congress" is an "office . . . created by that Constitution, and by that alone. . . . It is not true, therefore, that electors for members of Congress owe their right to vote to the State law in any sense which makes the exercise of the right to depend exclusively on the law of the State." 110 U. S., at 663-664. We made the same point in United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 315 (1941), when we said, "[T]he right of qualified voters within a state to cast their ballots and have them counted at Congressional elections . . . is a right secured by the Constitution" and "is secured against the action of individuals as well as of states."

The federal character of congressional elections flows from the political reality that our National Government is republican in form and that national citizenship has privileges and immunities protected from state abridgement by the force of the Constitution itself. Even before the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, the latter proposition was given expression in Crandall v. Nevada where the Court recognized the right of the Federal Government to call "any or all of its citizens to aid in its service, as members of the Congress, of the courts, of the executive departments, and to fill all its other offices," and further recognized that "this right cannot be made to depend upon the pleasure of a State over whose territory they must pass to reach the point where these services must be rendered." 6 Wall., at 43. And without reference to the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the rights of national citizenship were upheld again in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 552 (1876), where the Court said, "The right of the people peaceably to assemble for the purpose of petitioning Congress for a redress of grievances, or for any thing else connected with the powers or the duties of the national government, is an attribute of national citizenship, and, as such, under the protection of, and guaranteed by, the United States. The very idea of a government, republican in form, implies a right on the part of its citizens to meet peaceably for consultation in respect to public affairs and to petition for a redress of grievances." Cf. Hague v. Committee for Industrial Organization, 307 U.S. 496, 513 (1939) (opinion of Roberts, J., joined by Black, J., and joined in relevant part by Hughes, C. J.) ("Citizenship of the United States would be little better than a name if it did not carry with it the right to discuss national legislation and the benefits, advantages, and opportunities to accrue to citizens therefrom").

In the Slaughter House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 78-80 (1873), the Court was careful to hold that federal citizenship in and of itself suffices for the assertion of rights under the Constitution, rights that stem from sources other than the States. Though the Slaughter House Cases interpreted the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, its view of the origins of federal citizenship was not confined to that source. Referring to these rights of national dimension and origin the Court observed: "But lest it should be said that no such privileges and immunities are to be found if those we have been considering are excluded, we venture to suggest some which owe their existence to the Federal government, its National character, its Constitution, or its laws." Id., at 79. Later cases only reinforced the idea that there are such incidents of national citizenship. See Ex parte Yarbrough, supra; Terral v. Burke Constr. Co., 257 U.S. 529 (1922); United States v. Classic, supra; United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745 (1966); Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969). Federal privileges and immunities may seem limited in their formulation by comparison with the expansive definition given to the privileges and immunities attributed to state citizenship, see Slaughter House Cases, supra, at 78; Hague, supra, at 520 (opinion of Stone, J.), but that federal rights flow to the people of the United States by virtue of national citizenship is beyond dispute.

Not the least of the incongruities in the position advanced by Arkansas is the proposition, necessary to its case, that it can burden the rights of resident voters in federal elections by reason of the manner in which they earlier had exercised it. If the majority of the voters had been successful in selecting a candidate, they would be penalized from exercising that same right in the future. Quite apart from any First Amendment concerns, see Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 30 (1968); Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 786-788 (1983), neither the law nor federal theory allows a State to burden the exercise of federal rights in this manner. See Terral v. Burke Constr. Co., supra, at 532; Shapiro v. Thompson, supra, at 629-631. Indeed, as one of the "right[s] of the citizen[s] of this great country, protected by implied guarantees of its Constitution," the Court identified the right " `to come to the seat of government . . . to share its offices, to engage in administering its functions.' " Slaughter House Cases, supra, at 79 (quoting Crandall v. Nevada, 6 Wall., at 44). This observation serves to illustrate the extent of the State's attempted interference with the federal right to vote (and the derivative right to serve if elected by majority vote) in a congressional election, rights that do not derive from the state power in the first instance but that belong to the voter in his or her capacity as a citizen of the United States.

It is maintained by our dissenting colleagues that the State of Arkansas seeks nothing more than to grant its people surer control over the National Government, a control, it is said, that will be enhanced by the law at issue here. The arguments for term limitations (or ballot restrictions having the same effect) are not lacking in force; but the issue, as all of us must acknowledge, is not the efficacy of those measures but whether they have a legitimate source, given their origin in the enactments of a single State. There can be no doubt, if we are to respect the republican origins of the Nation and preserve its federal character, that there exists a federal right of citizenship, a relationship between the people of the Nation and their National Government, with which the States may not interfere. Because the Arkansas enactment intrudes upon this federal domain, it exceeds the boundaries of the Constitution.