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Decision No. 132

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October 23 1956
In Re: May a Provisional Annual Conference Vote on the Constitutional Amendments Handed Down to the Annual Conferences by the 1956 General Conference?

Digest of Case

A Provisional Annual Conference may not vote on the constitutional amendments handed down to the Annual Conferences by the 1956 General Conference.

Statement of Facts

On May 7, 1956, the Council of Bishops voted to request from the Judicial Council a declaratory decision as to whether or not a Provisional Annual Conference may vote on the constitutional amendments handed down to the Annual Conferences by the 1956 General Conference. This action was communicated to the Judicial Council by a letter of date, May 9, 1956, addressed to the Judicial Council by the Council of Bishops. Jurisdiction Under paragraph 914, sub-section (1) of the 1952 Discipline, the request of the Council of Bishops for a declaratory decision is properly before the Judicial Council. Analysis Paragraph 10, sub-paragraphs 1 and 2, Section III, Division Two, of the Constitution of The Methodist Church, 1952 Discipline, provides as follows: "Sec. III. Amendments "10. 1. Amendments to the Constitution may originate in either the General Conference or an Annual Conference. "2. Amendments to the Constitution shall be made upon a two-thirds majority of the General Conference present and voting and a two-thirds majority of all the members of the several Annual Conferences present and voting, except in the case of the first Restrictive Rule, which shall require a three-fourths majority of all the members of the Annual Conference present and voting. The vote, after being completed, shall be canvassed by the Council of Bishops, and the amendment voted upon shall become effective upon their announcement of its having received the required majority." Paragraph 4, sub-paragraph 4, Division Two, of the Constitution, 1952 Discipline provides: "There shall be Annual Conferences as the fundamental bodies in the Church with such powers, duties and privileges as are hereinafter set forth." Paragraph 22, Article II, Section VII, Division Two of the Constitution, 1952 Discipline, provides: "The Annual Conference is the basic body in the Church, and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments. . . ." The only references made to Provisional Annual Conferences in the Constitution of The Methodist Church are the following: By an amendment effective 1956, paragraph 7 of the 1952 Discipline, Article III, Section I, Division Two, was amended and provides that the General Conference shall fix the ratio of representation in the General, Jurisdictional and Central Conferences from Provisional Annual Conferences as well as from Annual Conferences upon the same basis. Paragraph 13 of the 1952 Discipline, Article III, Section IV, Division Two, of the Constitution, provides that the General Conference shall fix the basis of representation in the Jurisdictional Conferences provided that the Jurisdictional Conference shall be composed of an equal number of ministerial and lay delegates, the ministerial to be elected by the ministerial members of the Annual Conferences and the Provisional Annual Conferences and the lay delegates by the lay members. Paragraph 17 of the 1952 Discipline, Article II, Section V, Division Two provides that: "The Central Conferences shall be composed of as many delegates as shall be determined by a basis established by the General Conference. The delegates shall be ministerial and lay in equal numbers, the ministerial delegates to be elected by the ministerial members and lay delegates to be elected by the lay members of the Annual Conferences or the Provisional Annual Conferences." By an amendment effective 1956, paragraph 24 of the 1952 Discipline, Article IV, Section VII, Division Two, provides that the ministerial delegates to the General Conference and to the Jurisdictional or Central Conferences shall be elected by the ministerial members of the Annual Conference or the Provisional Conference (the amendment at this point omits the word "Annual") provided such delegates have been traveling preachers in the constituent churches forming the union or in The Methodist Church for at least four years next preceding their election and are in full connection with the Annual Conference or the Provisional Annual Conference electing them when elected and at the time of the holding of the General and Jurisdictional or Central Conferences. It will be noted that the foregoing references to Provisional Annual Conferences relate to the manner in which such Provisional Annual Conferences may elect, send delegates to and be represented in the General, Jurisdictional and Central Conferences and that in none of these references is there any provision by which the right to vote on all constitutional amendments reserved to the Annual Conference is granted to the Provisional Annual Conference. A further reference to Provisional Annual Conferences is found in paragraph 8 of the 1952 Discipline, subdivision 3 of the Article IV, Section I, Division Two of the Constitution, which provides that the General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional and in the exercise of said powers shall have authority "to define and fix the powers and duties of Annual Conferences, Mission Conferences and Missions" since Mission Conferences referred to therein are called Provisional Annual Conferences in the body of the Discipline. Under this power paragraph 607 of the 1952 Discipline provides that "A Provisional Annual Conference is authorized to exercise the powers of an Annual Conference subject to the approval of the presiding Bishop." The authority given the General Conference by this provision of the Constitution does not grant the General Conference the right to fix powers of Provisional Annual Conferences which are in contravention of other express provisions of the Constitution and accordingly Provisional Annual Conferences cannot, under the provisions of paragraph 607, exercise the right to vote on constitutional amendments, which right is specifically reserved to the Annual Conference by the Constitution. It is the duty of judicial bodies in determining rights under constitutions to determine the intention of the makers or framers of the Constitution. If there are apparent conflicts, it is the duty of judicial bodies to harmonize them if this can be reasonably done without distorting the meaning of any provision so as to give effect to every portion of the instrument under consideration. A judicial body may not override a plain constitutional provision however objectionable it may seem to the parties interested. Where the language is plain and unambiguous, no room is left for construction. It is clear from the Constitution that there is a difference between an Annual Conference and a Provisional Annual Conference. The provisions of the Constitution relating to the Annual Conference, the manner in which amendments to the Constitution may be made and the distinct provision that the Annual Conference shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments are clear and unambiguous.

Decision

It is the decision of the Judicial Council that a Provisional Annual Conference may not vote on the constitutional amendments handed down to the Annual Conferences by the 1956 General Conference.

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