On February 14, 2023 Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office announced that she would not be running for reelection in 2024 to represent the State of California in the U.S. Senate. At 89 years old, Sen. Feinstein is the oldest sitting U.S. Senator and member of Congress. Having been first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, Sen. Feinstein also holds the title for longest-serving female U.S. senator in the country’s history. In recent years, Sen. Feinstein and a number of her colleagues in the U.S. Senate have been the focal point of a heated debate around age limits and other eligibility requirements for sitting Senators and those seeking reelection. This discussion is relevant because the current 118th Congress is the third oldest since 1789; the previous 117th Congress was the oldest in American history.
Article I of the United States Constitution outlines the requirements for serving in the Senate. To be eligible, a candidate must be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least nine years, and a resident of the state they represent. These are the only three eligibility requirements for a U.S. Senator, as the U.S. Constitution is silent on age limits, term limits, and similar considerations. The discussion around age limits for elected office has been ongoing for decades, and it often centers around concerns about the ability of older individuals to perform their duties effectively. Supporters of age limits argue that older individuals may have declining cognitive abilities, which could negatively impact their decision-making and ability to effectively represent their constituents. On the other hand, opponents of age limits argue that age should not be used as a proxy for ability, and that many older individuals bring valuable experience and wisdom to their roles in public office.
Despite the ongoing discussion, no age limits or term limits have been enacted at the federal level in the United States. However, in 1992, Arkansas voters adopted an amendment to their State Constitution which, in part, made ineligible for re-election any person who served two or more terms as a member of the U.S. Senate from Arkansas. U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton arose from the controversy in Arkansas and made its way to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court stated that the U.S. Constitution prohibited States from adopting Congressional qualifications in addition to those enumerated in the Constitution. This ruling cemented that any changes to the eligibility requirements for federal elected officials would require a constitutional amendment, which is a difficult and lengthy process.
This week’s Current Events resources examine the eligibility requirements of a United States Senator. The resources shared provide information and context to the discussions around proposed modifications to eligibility requirements, including age limits, term limits and other measures to ensure the U.S. Senate is representative of its constituents.
Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:
- What are the eligibility requirements for becoming a United States Senator?
- How do the eligibility requirements for becoming a U.S. Senator differ from other federal elected officials such as President and House of Representatives Congressperson? Why do you think those differences exist?
- What does the U.S. Constitution say about the eligibility, requirements, and qualifications of the members of the U.S. Senate?
- What is the impact of the ruling in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton?
- What is the 17th Amendment and what are the arguments for overturning it?
- What are the arguments for and against adding age limits on federal elected officials?
- In your opinion, should the United States have age limits (maximum ages) for elected officials? Explain.
Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions and U.S. Senate Vocabulary
Click here for a hardcopy of Extension Activities CLP suggests implementing with this content
Senate and States, More Perfect Union, Constitutional, The Washington Post, September 11, 2017
Congress is older than ever. It hasn’t always been this way, All Things Considered, NPR, November 10, 2022
Starter Kit: Legislative Branch, Civics 101: A Podcast, NPR
Should the 17th Amendment be repealed?, We the People, National Constitution Center, July 13, 2017
ArtI.S3.C3.3 Congress’s Ability to Change Qualifications Requirements for Senate, Constitution of the United States, Library of Congress
About the Senate & the U.S. Constitution | Qualifications, The United States Senate
ArtI.S3.C3.1 Overview of Senate Qualifications Clause, Cornell Law School
Amending the U.S. Constitution, National Conference of State Legislatures
71 Percent of U.S. Senators Out if Age Limits Imposed on Elected Officials, Newsweek, January 20, 2022
There’s overwhelming support for an age limit on the president and Congress. Here’s why that won’t happen anytime soon., Business Insider, December 24, 2022
Sen. Dianne Feinstein announces she will not run for re-election in 2024, CBS Bay Area, February 14, 2023
What are the qualifications to become a United States Senator?, The Tennessean, January 22, 2020
Should there be a maximum age limit for elected politicians?, Northeastern Global News, February 4, 2022
Feinstein corrected by staffer about retirement announcement, The Hill, February 14, 2023
Amend the Constitution to make federally elected officials and justices retire at 80, Tampa Bay Times, November 23, 2022
What might a constitutional amendment capping the age of the President look like?, Excess of Democracy, November 14, 2019
A maximum age for politicians won’t fix our government, Washington Examiner, September 11, 2022
Lesson Plan: Choice Board – Researching Your US Senators, C-SPAN Classroom
Congress Represented in Political Cartoons, National Archives
Senate Immersion Module (SIM) – Being a Senator, Edward M. Kennedy Institute, for the United States Senate
Article I, National Constitution Center
Women in Congress, Teach a Girl to Lead, Rutgers, Eagleton Institute of Politics
Resources for Younger Students:
Congress in Article I of the Constitution, Docs Teach