Special Session Actions Challenged on Constitutional Grounds
ANNAPOLIS (Dec. 13, 2007)—The Republican Minority Leadership in the Maryland House and Senate, along with a computer services business owner from Carroll County, filed suit today challenging the constitutionality of legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly during the recently-concluded special session. The lawsuit was filed in Carroll County Circuit Court.
In a motion filed on behalf of the plaintiffs, attorney Irwin R. Kramer of Kramer & Connolly, requests that the court review alleged irregularities that occurred during the special session, including the six-day adjournment by the Maryland Senate. The plaintiffs say the adjournment was in direct violation of Article III, Section 25 of the Maryland Constitution which precludes either house from taking prolonged adjournments without obtaining the requisite approval of the other.
Emphasizing that the Constitution must be enforced, Kramer wrote in a memorandum of support that Although special sessions are designed to handle state emergencies, the General Assembly has no greater license to suspend constitutional procedures in these sessions than they do in regular legislative sessions...When it comes to the law, you cannot make it if you break it.
This action was not taken lightly, nor was it arrived at without very serious considerations. This lawsuit is about government transparency and the integrity of our state Constitution, said House Minority Leader Anthony J. ODonnell and a plaintiff in the case. Constitutional restrictions on the legislature can never be ignored. Doing so puts all of Marylands citizens at risk now and in the future.
As part of the relief requested, the suit asks the court to set aside the numerous increases in taxes and fees, including a new tax on computer services. Plaintiff John C. Pardoe, Chief Executive Officer of Byte-Right Support, Inc., expressed concern for his small business customers, whose "computer services budget has now essentially been slashed by 6%.
Pardoe says he first learned of the new sales tax on computer services at the last minute on the news. I guess we were the easiest targets for them to hit, said Pardoe. We have no lobbyists, no heads up at all, no time to get to Annapolis to speak out on it and let legislators consider the impact on small business.
The court is also asked to review the legislative process by which state appropriations are made contingent upon a public referendum through the Constitutional Amendment for slot machine gambling. Obviously, the General Assembly has the power to approve slot machines without altering the Constitution, said Senator David Brinkley, Senate Minority Leader and a plaintiff in the case. By disguising a public referendum as a Constitutional Amendment, this runs afoul of previous court rulings prohibiting state appropriations from being subject to a vote of the public. Legislators should have accepted the responsibility themselves and just passed a slots bill.
Senator Allan Kittleman, Senate Minority Whip and a plaintiff, objected to what they called the "flawed process" on the Senate floor. Kittleman said in a prepared statement: The special session was an injustice to citizens of Maryland. We are asking the court to review the procedural irregularities, lack of transparency and Constitutional violations with the just result that these tax increases be overturned.
House Minority Whip and plaintiff Christopher Shank said he views the entire matter as a guarantee for good government in Maryland: The people of Maryland have a constitutional guarantee to good government that was abrogated by this special session. The constitution of our state is worth defending, we are asking the court for a review of these constitutional errors that were made.
State Republicans last used the State's constitution to derail early voting—a process that would have allowed registered voters to vote at select locations over a period of several days prior to the formal election date. Voter rights advocates hailed early voting as a boon to democracy in that working class citizens would have more opportunities to vote without having to miss work.