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.
- See also: Preambles to state constitutions
- We, the People of the State of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberty, and taking into our serious consideration the best means of establishing a good Constitution in this State for the sure foundation and more permanent security thereof, declare:
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."
- Article I is entitled Elective Franchise.
- Article II establishes the executive department and the governor at its head.
- Article III establishes the legislative department as the law-making body of the state.
- Article IV establishes the judicial department as the system of courts.
- Article V concerns the attorney-general as well as the state's attorneys.
- Article VI sets up the treasury department.
- Article VII concerns sundry officers.
- Article VIII establishes the public school system for the state.
- Article IX deals with the state militia.
- Article X has been repealed.
- Articles XI, XI-A, XI-B, XI-C, XI-D, XI-E, XI-F, XI-G, XI-H and XI-I concern the city of Baltimore.
- Article XII details public works.
- Article XIII is about new counties.
- Article XIV describes the process for amending the state constitution.
- Article XV deals with miscellaneous governmental provisions.
- Article XVI concerns the referendum.
- Article XVII states that elections be held every four years.
- Article XVIII concerns provisions that will only last for a limited duration.
- Article XIX deals with video lottery terminals.
Amending the constitution
- See also: Amending state constitutions
Article 14 defines these ways to amend the Maryland Constitution:
- Constitutional amendment can be accomplished via a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. Placing such a proposed amendment on the ballot must be approved by a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the Maryland State Legislature. Note: The required 2/3rds vote is of the full membership of each chamber, not 2/3rds of whatever quorum is present when the vote is held.
- The constitution can also be amended via a constitutional convention.
- Article XIV allows for the possibility that some proposed constitutional amendments may apply to only one county (or the City of Baltimore, which is governed independently of a county structure). In this case, Article XIV says that in order to become part of the constitution, the proposed amendment must be approved by a majority vote not just statewide, but specifically in the county (or Baltimore) to which it exclusively applies.
While the average state constitution has been amended approximately 115 times, as of 2004, the Maryland Constitution had been amended almost 200 times. It was amended twice in 2008. 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.
Section 2 of Article 14 of the Maryland Constitution requires the Maryland General Assembly to ask the voters every 20 years, starting in 1970, about whether they wish to call a constitutional convention.
The question will be on the November 2, 2010 ballot in Maryland.
- Text of the Constitution
- From The Archives of Maryland proceedings debate, list of delegates, as well as text of the Constitution
- The Maryland State Constitution: A Reference Guide. Dan Friedman, 2006, 399 pages.
- 1. Satewide Ballot Question Results from the Maryland Board of Elections
- Whitman H. Ridgway. Maryland Humanities Council (2001). "(Maryland) Politics and Law".
- Whitman H. Ridgway. Maryland Humanities Council (2001). "(Maryland in) the Nineteenth Century".
- Richard E. Berg-Andersson (Dec. 5, 2004). "Constitutions of the Several states".