South Dakota candidates not forced to reveal term-limit position

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP)—A federal judge will decide by the end of March whether a law requiring ballots to say if congressional candidates support a specific term-limit proposal is constitutional.


U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol has issued a restraining order preventing the Secretary of State’s office from enforcing the law until he issues a ruling.


The reprieve will allow candidates to withhold their position on the term-limit initiative until the constitutionality of the law is determined, said Rapid City lawyer Scott McGregor.


“We didn’t want to get into a situation where a candidate has to do something that might later be determined unconstitutional,” said McGregor, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case.


The controversial law calls for House and Senate candidates to support a specific term-limit amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Those who don’t back the plan would have labels declaring their opposition printed next to their names on the ballot.


Voters approved the labeling law by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent in the 1996 election. The measure was put on the ballot after a successful petition drive by groups promoting term limits.


The proposed amendment would limit House members to three two-year terms and Senate members to two six-year terms.


Members of Congress who fail to support such an amendment would have “disregarded voters’ instructions on term limits” printed on their ballots. A similar label would appear on the ballots of non-incumbent candidates who don’t pledge support for the term-limit amendment.


Candidates were supposed to file forms declaring their position on the proposed term-limit amendment with the Secretary of State by March 1.


Now they will wait for Piersol’s decision.


The complaint was filed in December on behalf of state Sen. Barb Everist, R-Sioux Falls, state Rep. Linda Barker, D-Sioux Falls, and former state lawmaker Roy Letellier.


They claim the law would violate free speech. It would also go against the process Congress must follow in amending the constitution, they said.


“It is a directive from the people to compel senators and representatives to put out a particular amendment,” McGregor said. “But the constitution leaves that to Congress itself.


“It says, `If you don’t, we will give you one of these scarlet letters’ that courts have determined is a kiss of death.”


If Piersol rules the law is unconstitutional, the labels will not be included on ballots in the primary election in June or in the general election next fall.


Similar labeling laws have been struck down by state supreme courts in Arkansas and Idaho and by federal courts in Nebraska and Maine.


South Dakota voters approved term limits for the state Legislature in 1992.


That measure also included term limits on South Dakota’s congressional delegation, but the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that states cannot limit service in Congress without amending the U.S. Constitution.