Maryland Constitution

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Maryland Constitution
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Articles

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The current Constitution of Maryland is a state constitution and the fundamental governing document of Maryland. It was ratified by the people of the state on September 18, 1867, replacing the short-lived Constitution of 1864. The state's current constitution is the fourth constitution under which the state has been governed. It was last amended in 2006.

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.

Preamble

See also: Preambles to state constitutions

The Preamble to the Maryland Constitution is:[1]

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."

Summary

Amending the constitution

See also: Amending state constitutions

Article 14 defines these ways to amend the Maryland Constitution:

  • Section 2 of Article 14 says that an automatic ballot referral to ask the voters of the state whether they wish to convene a statewide constitutional convention must be placed on the statewide ballot every twenty years starting in 1970.
  • 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.

Notable amendments

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.

Constitutional conventions

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.[2]

The question will be on the November 2, 2010 ballot in Maryland.

External links

References


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