The Mass. Legislature did indeed violate its constitutional duty

The Mass. Legislature did indeed violate its constitutional duty

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled on the petition by some citizens seeking judicial relief in the matter of the state Legislature shirking its constitutional duty by failing to hold a vote on a voter-initiated constitutional amendment petition as required by the state constitution. The court said, in essence, that the lawmakers have violated the constitution but the only recourse for the voters is to vote the offenders out of office. So much for checks and balances.

Harry Forbes highlights the parts of the ruling that the Boston Globe refused to report, showing just how clearly the SJC saw this as a very serious violation of the constitution.

What’s very interesting is how even some ardently pro-gay marriage liberals are coming around to seeing how dangerous it is to abuse the constitution to advance one’s political goals, because next time it may be your political opponents who choose to abuse it so. At the liberal Blue Mass Group blog, one of the bloggers makes just that argument. While I don’t agree with some of his analysis and conclusions, the crux of his argument is that the Legislature should indeed vote on the petition, up or down, just so that the results can not be declared illegitimate or reversed on that basis. Welcome to the party, guys; it’s too bad you’re probably too late.

Meanwhile the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, including the ordinaries of the four Catholic dioceses of Massachusetts, have released a relevant letter today:

Last week we sent each member of the Massachusetts General Court a letter, copied via email to their office, firmly requesting that they move the marriage amendment petition forward by bringing it to a vote at the Constitutional Convention on January 2, 2007. 

Our request for a vote on the amendment follows from each member of the legislature having sworn an oath to support the Constitution, which gives citizens the right to vote on initiative petitions.  We believe that a legislator’s vote to recess violates their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution.

The commentary by the Supreme Judicial Court in its decision regarding the marriage amendment reinforces what we said in our letter.  The Court wrote, “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.”  The Court also wrote, “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.”

We ask the members of the legislature to be mindful of the words they spoke when they took their oath of office.  We ask them to consider what it means to violate that oath by failing to vote on the merits of the marriage amendment.

As we wrote in our letter on December 21, 2006 “Let the democratic process take its course. Be true to your responsibilities as public servants – allow the people to exercise their rightful sovereignty.”

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
2 comments
  • I count the word oath four times and duty,indeed sworn duty, twice in the Bishop’s letter. What comes to mind is the unjust judge in the Gospel who says “..I neither fear God nor respect any human being..”.  Only fear of personal harm drives him to a decision ; a decision dictated not by right reason and justice but fear “.. lest she come and strike me”.  Fear determines the outcome of this matter. What vote will protect me and my power the most. Who has the longest knives and memories?  What profit can I gain in political power and prestige against possible loss of my position?  I’m a recent arrival in ma. but based on nothing other than statements by your ma. man in the street, my bet is they walk. They have nothing to fear from this electorate.

  • I haven’t lived in Massachusetts for over ten years, so I haven’t followed this in painstaking detail.

    Can someone please explain to me why the SJC had the authority to order the legislature to legalize gay marriage, yet feels it doesn’t have the authority to order a vote on this??  Is there a subtlety here that I’m missing?

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