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Decision No. 37

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May 08 1946
In Re: Executive Sessions of an Annual Conference Excluding Lay Members

Digest of Case

The jurisdiction of the Judicial Council to pass on the constitutionality of an Act of the General Conference is limited by Paragraph 43, Section 1, Discipline 1944, and its jurisdiction as to Declaratory Decisions is limited by Paragraph 914, in neither one of which Paragraphs is provision made for initiating any such procedure by an Annual Conference. Accordingly the Judicial Council may not render any decision involving the constitutionality of Paragraph 646, Discipline 1944, on the request, petition or other action of an Annual Conference only.

Statement of Facts

In the morning session of the Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference on Saturday, June 23, 1945, Nathan Newby presented to the presiding Bishop, James C. Baker, a request for a ruling on the following question: "A group of the lay members of the Southern California-Arizona Conference hereby protest against their exclusion from the Executive Session of the ministerial members of said Conference, held on Friday afternoon, June 22, 1945, and question the legality of said session, on the ground that it was held in violation of the Constitution of The Methodist Church. "We also request the presiding Bishop to rule on the legality of said Executive Session and, if he finds it to have been illegal, to direct the Secretary of the Conference to expunge from his record all reference thereto." (P. 37 Journal of the Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference for the session held at Pasadena in 1945.) In the Journal of the Conference no ruling made by the Bishop in response to this request, during the session of the Conference held at Pasadena, can be found. At the afternoon session of the Conference on that same day, just prior to the holding of an Executive Session of the Ministerial members of the Conference, Nathan Newby moved the following Resolution which the Conference approved by a unanimous vote: "Whereas, The following request was presented to the Southern California-Arizona Conference in open session on June 23, 1945, Bishop James C. Baker presiding: "Whereas, Section 21 of Article One (1) of the Constitution of The Methodist Church provides that an Annual Conference shall be composed of traveling preachers in full connection and one lay member from each charge; and "Whereas, Section 22, Article Two (2) of said Constitution provides that the lay members 'may not vote on matters of ordination, character, and Conference relations of ministers'; and "Whereas, Paragraph 646 of the Discipline of The Methodist Church provides that an Annual Conference 'may order an Executive Session of the ministerial members to consider questions relating to matters of ordination, character and Conference relations'; and "Whereas, The said provision, in Paragraph 646 of the Discipline for an Executive Session of the ministerial members is apparently in conflict with the Constitution and might render any action taken at such a session illegal; and "Whereas, Paragraph 631 of the 1944 Discipline forbids an Annual Conference from making 'any rule contrary to the Constitution or to the powers granted it by the General Conference'; "Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by certain of the lay members of the Southern California-Arizona Conference that we request the said Conference to cause to be presented to the Judicial Council, pursuant to Paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline, for its decision as to the legality of that portion of Paragraph 646 of the Discipline that purports to authorize said Executive Session, and thereby exclude the lay members, not only from voting but from attendance upon and participation in the proceedings of a Conference of which they are constitutional members." "Now, Therefore, in pursuance of said request the Southern California-Arizona Conference and the presiding Bishop join in submitting the said question of the legality of the Executive Sessions of this Conference held in pursuance of a rule of said Conference and Paragraph 646 of the 1944 Discipline of The Methodist Church, to the Judicial Council as provided by paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline for a ruling in the nature of a Declaratory Decision as to the legality of holding Executive Sessions of an Annual Conference, consisting exclusively of ministerial members." (Journal of the Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference for the session held at Pasadena in 1945, pp. 49, 50.) Well-prepared briefs were submitted on behalf of those requesting the decision by Nathan Newby, Esq., and Mr. Chester A. Smith.

Decision

The matter at issue is clearly a question of constitutionality. Both in Judge Newby's request for a ruling by the Bishop, and in the request of the Conference for a Declaratory Decision the question is stated in this form only. The authority of the Judicial Council for dealing with constitutional questions, with respect to General Conference legislation, is found in the Constitution, Paragraph 43, Article II, Section 1: "To determine the constitutionality of any act of the General Conference upon an appeal of a majority of the Council of Bishops, or one fifth of the members of the General Conference." Even though in Paragraph 22, Article II of Section VII of the Constitution, the Annual Conference is declared to be "The basic body in the Church" no authority is given to it to request from the Judicial Council a ruling on constitutionality. Neither is there any authority in Paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline for Declaratory Decisions in response to appeals from Annual Conferences. It is therefore the opinion of the Judicial Council that we are without jurisdiction in this case.

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