Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Last November, Marylanders went to the polls. In addition to choosing candidates to administer their government as well as delegates to legislate for them, there was a ballot question on whether to call a constitutional convention, which, if voters so chose, would provide an opportunity to propose fundamental reforms.

Well, voters so chose. A solid majority — 54.4 percent — voted Yea.

But the Maryland Legislature isn’t setting up the convention.

In a Baltimore Sun op-ed, J.H. Snider, president of iSolon.org, tells the history of the constitutional convention provision in Maryland’s 1851 Constitution: “From 1851 until 1930, the majority required to convene a con-con was interpreted and implemented to mean an ordinary majority.”

But in 1930, when a majority said yes to a convention, the legislature balked, claiming that a convention required a supermajority of all citizens voting in the election. In other words, those not voting on the convention issue were counted as Nay votes.

A legal challenge was brought, but failed, because the counsel to the General Assembly provided, according to Snider, “a remarkably selective and biased interpretation of the con-con debates” for the court. In 1950, again a simple majority called a convention, again legislators shut their ears and, this time, a federal court case failed to decide the matter.

Snider supports a convention as the “best hope for fixing Maryland’s democratic deficits, including its inherently corrupt redistricting system and its legislators’ defiance of popular sentiment on legislative term limits.”

So, he’s suing the Old Line State government “to force it to convene the con-con a majority of Marylanders voted for on Nov. 2, 2010.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

By: Redactor

5 Comments

  1. Paul Jacob says:

    Oops, my lack of omnipotence is showing. There was not a legal challenge to the legislature’s refusal to call a convention in 1930, simply a legal opinion rendered by the legislature’s legal counsel. Here’s precisely how Jim Snider explained it to me:

    “Thanks for the link and the writeup. One item is historically incorrect in the writeup, which you might want to know about.

    “No court challenge was brought after the 1930 election. To actually convene the con-con, the General Assembly had to pass enabling legislation to set the time of the election of delegates, pay for the delegates, etc. If it did nothing, no con-con would be called. Something similar happened in Iowa in 1921. There was a duly elected con-con in 1920—and in that case no one even questioned whether it was a valid ordinary majority. But the malapportioned legislature didn’t want to convene a con-con and so simply didn’t, knowing that the court system wouldn’t enter the ‘political thicket’ if a case was brought before it. In Maryland, however, the General Assembly sought political cover for its inaction. So it hired an attorney who was a constitutional expert to deliver a legal opinion that the relevant majority language specified in the Constitution was ambiguous and could be intepreted as requiring that the non-votes be treated as no votes. In other words, the issue was never disputed in a court of law.”

  2. Mark Read Pickens says:

    Are dead registered voters not yet removed from the rolls counted as “no” votes?

  3. Drik says:

    A Con-con is an imediate threat to the status quo. Unlike the longer term inevitable threat caused by profligate spending.

    Therefore it won’t happen

  4. Spizman says:

    Can the non-voters in each legislative district be counted as NOTA (None of the Above) voters?

  5. […] violates Maryland’s Constitution.  Paul Jacob’s Common Sense covered it under the headline Constitutional Coup d’état?  For more information, see Marylanders for a State Constitutional Convention […]

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