Can We Make It Illegal for the Legislature to Legislate?

State capitol, Bismarck North Dakota

Today the Secretary of State’s office announced they have received a resubmitted petition to amend the state constitution to “limit Legislative options for amending state’s constitution,” as the press release puts it.

I’d written about this measure last month when it was originally submitted.

You can read the latest iteration in full below, but here’s the text:

There is some blatant hypocrisy at the heart of this measure. I had the chairman of the measure committee, Dustin Gawrylow, on the podcast a few weeks ago and he said this amendment to the state constitution is needed to keep the Legislature messing around with the initiated measure process.

The process through which voters legislate at the ballot box.

Yet, the Legislature cannot amend the constitution without that amendment being voted on by the people anyway. So essentially what the proponents of this measure are saying is that they don’t want the people to be able to vote on changes to the initiated measure process which are initiated by the Legislature.

I guess the supporters of this measure trust the electorate to make the right decisions…except when they don’t?

But beyond that, I’m not sure how this is even legal. Can we really amend the state constitution to keep our law-making branch of government from changing a certain area of law?

If we can, would it be legal to pass a constitutional amendment blocking the Legislature from changing any laws at all? Or could one legislative session pass a law restricting any future iteration of the legislature from changing the law?

That’s reductio ad absurdum, perhaps, but it illustrates an important question. I’m not sure it’s even really possible to do this.

I’m not sure we should want to do this, even if we can. Do we want to start down a road where the voters start blocking off swaths of the state constitution, or state statutes, from the Legislature? Are we to be governed by the executive branch and the ballot box alone?

This measure is hypocritical, and unnecessary, because already the Legislature is prohibited from amending the state constitution unilaterally. The voters must approve constitutional amendments under the status quo.

This measure may also be illegal, infringing as it does upon the powers of the Legislature. And even if this is legal, it shouldn’t be something we want.

We have enough checks and balances in place under the status quo.

Anyway, supporters have to collect 26,904 signatures within one year of this petition being approved for circulation.

 

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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