Historically only a handful of members of Congress from North Dakota have remained in office after the age of 80 years old. But an intensifying focus on the fitness of octogenarians at the highest levels of the federal government, such as 81-year old President Joe Biden and 82-year old Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has led to widespread public support for age limits on members of Congress in the polls.

With the advanced age of some U.S. political leaders in the spotlight, 79% of Americans favor maximum age limits for elected officials in Washington, D.C. And 74% support such limits for Supreme Court justices, according to a new [October 2023] Pew Research Center survey.

It’s a popular notion that faces a statewide test for what appears to be the first time in North Dakota next Tuesday. Primary voters will vote on a ballot measure that would impose an age restriction of 80 on members of the state’s congressional delegation. The measure’s supporters at Retire Congress ND say recent polling shows most North Dakotans also back the idea.

Heading into next week’s June 11th election, an overwhelming 78% of voters have indicated support for an age limit for North Dakota’s members of Congress. If passed, the measure makes candidates over the age 80 ineligible to run if they would reach that age during their term.

“The median age of retirement in the United States is 64,” said Jared Hendrix, Chair of the Retire Congres North Dakota ballot measure campaign. “We’re saying that we don’t want career politicians to serve for eternity. Everybody else retires, so should members of Congress. We’re asking voters to Vote YES on Measure 1.”

If successful, the measure will undoubtedly be challenged on the same constitutional grounds as congressional term limits that were passed by Arkansas but were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995. The Bismarck Tribune notes that some estimates of the potential legal costs to taxpayers could approach $1 million.

In U.S. Term Limits Inc. v. Thornton, state-level restrictions on federal officials were tested after Arkansas passed a constitutional amendment that enforced limits of two terms for the state’s U.S. senators and three for its representatives. The amendment was eventually shot down by the court because its restrictions on Arkansas’ congressional delegations went beyond those enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.

The age limits measure could raise a similar question, as it would restrict North Dakota’s congressional delegations beyond the requirements found in the Constitution. Multiple experts have said the ballot measure could serve as a test case that would indicate whether the landscape around term limits has changed in light of the court’s conservative shift in recent years.

Even if the age restriction passes and survives a legal challenge, current members of the state delegation have years to go before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 80.

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