state Sen. Ernie Chambers
LINCOLN -- The Nebraska Supreme Court last week began hearing a term-limits challenge that some California lawmakers would dearly loved to see repeated in their state.
A lawsuit filed by six constituents of long-time state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha and two former senators alleges Nebraska's term-limits amendment, passed in 2000, is unconstitutional. The limits restrict state senators to two consecutive four-year terms.
The six voters argue that term limits violate their First Amendment free speech rights and their 14th Amendment equal protection rights. They are appealing a Lancaster County District Court decision to throw out the lawsuit.
Chambers and former Sens. Dennis Byars of Beatrice and Marian Price of Lincoln had their filings for re-election rejected by Secretary of State John Gale earlier this year. A decision is not expected from the Supreme Court for several months.
Voters' attorney Alan Peterson wrote in his Supreme Court brief that term limits are an "indirect but not very subtle" attack on black voters' rights in Omaha, the AP reported.
Chambers, a Democrat and 36-year veteran of the state legislature as well as its longest-serving senator ever, is Nebraska's lone African-American lawmaker. Peterson charges that a statewide vote "made it impossible for [Chambers] to continue to serve" his Omaha constituents.
Some prominent California Democrats will no doubt be cheering Chambers on. LegalNewsLine reported last week that state Sen. Ron Calderon believes a high court challenge by a termed-out lawmaker is the best way to circumvent California term limits' appeal to voters.
Calderon, who chairs the California Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee, believes the current Supreme Court could be amenable to tossing limits. Golden State lawmakers are limited to six years in the house and eight in the senate.
In Nebraska, 40 percent of the state legislature of 49 was ruled ineligible to run again last November and another third will have to leave in 2008. The remainder will term out in 2012.
Of the 21 states to adopt term limits, six no longer have them. In four of those the law was struck down by the state Supreme Court.