Maryland Constitution

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The current Constitution of Maryland, which was ratified by the people of the state on September 18, 1867, forms the basic law for the U.S. state of Maryland. It replaced the short-lived Maryland Constitution of 1864 and is the fourth constitution under which the state has been governed. It was last amended in 2006. [1]

At approximately 47,000 words (including annotations), the Maryland Constitution is much longer than the average length of a state constitution in the United States, which is about 26,000 words (the United States Constitution is about 8,700 words long).

Background, drafting, and ratification

The state's 1864 constitution, written during the Civil War while the Unionists temporarily controlled Maryland, proved to be unsuitable in a state that still had a lot of Southern sympathies. That document, which was approved by a bare majority (50.31%) of the state's eligible voters, was designed to disenfranchise the approximately 25,000 Marylanders who fought for the Confederacy or in other ways supported it. Also, while emancipating the state's slaves, the 1864 constitution changed the basis of representation in the General Assembly to help keep power in the hands of the white elite.

The Constitution of 1867 was drafted by a convention which met at the state capital, [Annapolis, between May 8 and August 17, 1867. It was submitted to the people of the state for ratification on September 18 and was approved by a vote of 27,152 to 23,036. It took effect on 5 October, 1867.

Declaration of Rights

The Maryland Constitution begins with a Declaration of Rights, which is similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights but, like most state bills of rights, is broader than the federal version. Among other things, the Maryland Constitution guarantees trial by jury, due process, freedom of the press and of religion. It also forbids, among other things, the passage of ex post facto laws and cruel and unusual punishment. Notably, juries in criminal cases are declared to be judges of law as well as fact, thus ensconcing in the constitution the right of (what is commonly called) jury nullification -- a commonplace in the early 19th century, but by 1867 already in decline as a result of abuse (in such conflicts as the Mormons in Nauvoo and the Fugitive Slave Law), and today very much the minority position but the subject of a national movement for restoration.

While the Declaration of Rights does say that "a well regulated Militia is the proper and natural defence of a free Government," it does not guarantee a right to bear arms. This makes the Maryland Constitution one of the very few state constitutions that lacks the equivalent of the federal second amendment. There is also a rather striking effort (presumably more symbolic than legally effective) to limit the guarantee against religious disabilities to those who believe in God and divine rewards and punishments.

Maryland's Constitution also makes explicit the separation of powers doctrine which is only implied in the federal constitution. The Maryland Constitution clearly states that "the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers of Government ought to be forever separate and distinct from each other; and no person exercising the functions of one of said Departments shall assume or discharge the duties of any other."

Amendments

Amendment process

Amendments to the constitution are proposed by the state legislature with a three-fifths vote in both chambers. Amendments must then be ratified by a simple majority of the people voting on the question in a referendum held simultaneously with the next general election. Unlike the federal constitution, when the Maryland Constitution is amended the official text of the document is edited, removing language that is no longer in force. However, most printed versions of the constitution include annotations which indicate which portions were amended or removed and at what times.

A provision in the document requires that every 20 years the people of the state be asked if a state constitutional convention should be convened. Such a convention is called if a majority of the voters request it. This question will next appear on the ballot in 2010.

Notable amendments

While the average state constitution has been amended approximately 115 times, as of 2004, the Maryland Constitution has been amended almost 200 times, most recently in 2006. In 1972 an amendment created the current legislative districting system that the state's General Assembly follows and in 1970 an amendment that created the position of Lieutenant Governor of Maryland was approved.

More infamously, in 1910 the Digges Amendment, which would have used property requirements to effectively disenfranchise many African Americans, was proposed. However, it was rejected by the people at the general election.


References


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