Constitution of Maryland

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The current Constitution of the State 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 2012.[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[edit]

The state's 1864 constitution, was written during the Civil War, while the Unionists temporarily controlled Maryland. Approved by a bare majority (50.31%) of the state's eligible voters, it temporarily disfranchised the approximately 25,000 men in Maryland who had fought for the Confederacy or in other ways supported it, in an effort to bring change to the state. Also, while the state's remaining slaves were emancipated by constitutional amendment, 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 October 5, 1867.[2]

Declaration of Rights[edit]

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—commonplace in the early 19th century. By 1867 this principle was already in decline as a result of abuse (in such conflicts as the Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.), and today very much the minority position.

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. The Maryland Constitution is one of the few state constitutions that lacks the equivalent of the federal Second Amendment.

Reflecting Maryland's history of religious toleration, it limits the guarantee against religious disabilities to those who believe in God and divine rewards and punishments. Article 36 includes the wording:

"nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor either in this world or in the world to come."

A unanimous 1961 decision by US Supreme court in the case of Torcaso v. Watkins found that an attempt to enforce this provision violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In 1970, this article was amended to include the sentence "Nothing in this article shall constitute an establishment of religion". The original wording of the article was left in place, presumably as symbolic rather than effective.

Maryland's Constitution describes the separation of powers doctrine, which is implied in the federal constitution. The Maryland Constitution 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[edit]

Amendment process[edit]

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. At the latest election where this question could be asked in 2010, the voters did not choose to call a convention.

Notable amendments[edit]

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 2012. In 1910, the Digges Amendment was proposed, to increase property requirements for voter registration. It would have effectively disfranchised most African Americans and many poor whites, as had been accomplished by other former states of the Confederacy through various means, beginning with Mississippi's new constitution of 1890. Other Maryland laws had already reduced black voter rolls, but this amendment was rejected by voters at the general election.

In 1970, voters approved an amendment that created the office of the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. In 1972, an amendment that created the current legislative district system of the Maryland General Assembly was approved.

2008 amendments[edit]

In 2008, two amendments were proposed on the 2008 U.S. presidential election ballot for the state of Maryland.[3] The first amendment proposed to allow early voting in state and allow qualified voters to vote at polling places outside of their home district. The amendment was approved with 72.1% of the vote.[3] The second amendment proposed to authorize the state to issue up to five video lottery licenses for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education of children in public schools.[3] The amendment was approved with 58.7% of the vote.[4][5]

2012 amendments[edit]

In 2012, three constitutional amendments were proposed on the 2012 U.S. presidential election ballot for the state of Maryland.[1] The first amendment proposed to require judges of the Orphans' Court for Prince George's County to have a Maryland state law license and to be a current member of the Maryland Bar Association.[6] The amendment was approved with 87.8% of the vote.[1] The second amendment proposed to require judges of the Orphans' Court for Baltimore County to have a Maryland state law license and to be a current member of the Maryland Bar Association.[7] The amendment was approved with 88.1% of the vote.[1] The third amendment proposed to change the point at which an elected official charged with certain crimes is suspended or removed from office.[8] Under the amended law, an elected official would be suspended when found guilty and removed when the conviction becomes final or when pleading guilty or no contest.[8] The amendment was approved with 88% of the vote.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "2012 General Election Results: Maryland State Board of Elections". elections.state.md.us. November 28, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Maryland Constitution". Retrieved October 18, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c "2008 General Election Results: Maryland State Board of Elections". elections.state.md.us. December 3, 2008. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ [2][dead link]
  6. ^ "2012 Ballot Question 1: Maryland State Board of Elections". Elections.state.md.us. November 28, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  7. ^ "2012 Ballot Question 2: Maryland State Board of Elections". elections.state.md.us. November 28, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "2012 Ballot Question 3: Maryland State Board of Elections". elections.state.md.us. November 28, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2013. 

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