(Author’s note: I am angrier about this story than I have been about anything in a long, long time. Consequently, there is some rather strong language below. Consider yourself warned.)
In Massachusetts, there is a procedure where the people can amend their Constitution. They can collect signatures on petitions, and if they get enough, submit them to the legislature. Then the legislature holds a joint session, as a “Constitutional Convention,” and votes on the petition, up or down. It needs only one-quarter to pass; in recognition of the people’s determination and initiative, the legislature needs to defeat it by at least 3/4 opposing. If it passes, it needs to go through the same cycle a second time before is placed on the ballot for a yes or no vote in the next general election.
That’s the law. That’s how it HAS to be done.
Well, not really.
This year, a bunch of the people wanted an amendment banning gay marriage. So they gathered more than enough signatures — 170,000 — and submitted them to the legislature. And several months ago, the legislature met in Constitutional Convention and took up the issue. And promptly decided to put it off for a little while — yesterday, to be precise. Two days AFTER the election, when all the legislators wouldn’t have to discuss the matter.
But the Constitution is clear: they HAVE to vote on the issue, up or down.
So they met yesterday, and golly gee, they needed more time to think about it. They re-scheduled it again, this time to January 2, the very last day of the legislative session.
And I’m going to make a prediction: On January 2, the legislature will meet in Constitutional Convention, and promptly adjourn without voting on the matter, in clear and flagrant violation of the Constitution. And since the legislative session will have ended, there’s not a goddamned thing that can be done about it.
How am I so comfortable in predicting how this will turn out? Because it’s exactly what they did two years ago. The people got their petitions signed, submitted them, the legislature postponed and postponed the vote right up until the last day, then went home without fulfilling their Constitutional obligation.
Now, you would think that the people would be pissed. Lord knows this would never happen in New Hampshire, where we have a Constitutional Right of Revolution and could use that to storm Concord and toss the entire legislature out on its collective asses.
But did the lawmakers who violated their Constitutional duty suffer for their actions? Not exactly. In fact, not a single legislator who voted to illegally kill the petition drive was defeated for re-election on Tuesday. In fact, many of them weren’t even opposed in their quest for re-election.
The legislature, collectively, dropped their pants and dumped a steaming load right on to the faces of the people of the state. And last Tuesday, the people gave them a great big wet kiss, with plenty of tongue, in gratitude.
Forget that the issue this time was gay marriage, a subject I happen to support and a lot of you folks oppose. This is far more important and fundamental than the topic. The people of Massachusetts, through the Constitutionally-defined procedure, wanted a chance for the entire state to have a say in a change to the state’s Constitution. They did every single thing by the book, and in the end the legislature — this time, 109 of 200 of them — told them to fuck off and not bother their betters, who obviously know better and need not bother obeying such silly things as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. These arrogant pricks are convinced that they can freely flout the law, the will of the people, and the very Constitution of their state with impunity.
And why do they believe this? Because they keep proving they can. There are brief howls of protest, but in the long run they know that it will blow over and they can keep their $50,000+ a year jobs as lawmakers without fear of paying the price at the election polls.
Folks, it’s stories like this that led me to create the “Mass. Insanity” category. We just had the midterm elections, and the consensus is that “the people have spoken.” There is some argument about just what precisely the people said, but no one — NO ONE — is talking about nullifying the whole election and simply keeping the existing House and Senate as is for the next two years.
But in Massachusetts, the Supreme Law of the Commonwealth is not the Constitution, it’s whatever the Legislature says goes this week.
I think I finally grasp how this is the state that inflicted the entire nation with Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry, just to name three.
(Both Boston papers have coverage of the Legislature’s flagrantly unconstitutional flouting of the law, with the Boston Herald’s story being a bit more sensationalistic, while the Boston Globe’s more sympathetic — both eminently predictable. And columnist/talk show host/gadfly Howie Carr has a very cynical take on the matter, but one that has the unfortunate advantage of being indisputably true.)
Update: Herald story link fixed. Thanks, Oyster.