Thursday, December 28, 2006

An Obligation "Beyond Serious Debate"

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously yesterday that the legislature is obliged by article 48 of the Constitution to vote on initiative petitions. The court ruling declared the obligation to bring the measure to a vote is "beyond serious debate". Yet today’s Boston Globe story highlight’s the Court’s refusal to force the Legislature to perform its sworn duty:

The ruling is a legal victory for advocates of same-sex marriage, who are seeking to keep the question off the 2008 ballot, but a symbolic triumph for Romney and opponents of the marriages, who have pressured the Legislature to vote.

Some ‘victory’!

What you will NOT read in today’s biased Boston Globe story is any part of the ruling that underlies how clearly the Legislature is obliged to bring this measure to a vote rather than suppress it by the procedural dodge of adjournment, as they have done thus far. Here are some excerpts from the Court’s ruling that were not printed in the Boston Globe (perhaps they would have taken up too much space?).

The members of the joint session have a constitutional duty to vote, by the yeas and nays, on the merits of all pending initiative amendments before recessing on January 2, 2007. With respect to legislative action on proposals for constitutional amendments introduced to the General Court by initiative petition, the language of art. 48 is not ambiguous.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the records of the drafters' debates indicate that they did not intend a simple majority of the joint session to have the power effectively to block progress of an initiative. See 2 Debates in the Constitutional Convention 1917-1918, supra at 629 (expressly rejecting such a proposal).

Enough has now been said about the requirement to vote on the merits to place the proposition beyond serious debate.

We conclude with these observations. Some members of the General Court may have reasoned, in good faith, that a vote on the merits of the initiative amendment in accordance with the directives of the pertinent provisions of art. 48 was not required by the constitutional text and that their duty could be met by procedural (or other) votes short of a vote by the yeas and nays on the merits. [FN7] Today's discussion and holding on the meaning of the duty lays any doubt to rest. The members of the General Court are the people's elected representatives, and each one of them has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth. Those members who now seek to avoid their lawful obligations, by a vote to recess without a roll call vote by yeas and nays on the merits of the initiative amendment (or by other procedural vote of similar consequence), ultimately will have to answer to the people who elected them.

The Court has made the point as clearly as possible that the Legislators have a duty to vote.

There are no “process liberals” here. There are only those who will observe the rule of law, or those who will place their own opinion above the law and their own oath.

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