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Decision No. 354

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April 19 1972
In Re: Eligibility of a Lay Delegate Elected to a General or Jurisdictional Conference When Less Than 21 Years of Age.

Digest of Case

We reaffirm our Decision No. 346 that Paragraph 40 of the Constitution requires that a lay delegate to a General or a Jurisdictional Conference must be 21 years of age at the time of election. The Constitution, thus interpreted, is applicable to individuals elected prior to Decision No. 346 as delegates to a General or a Jurisdictional Conference, to be held subsequent to the date of that decision. The General Conference is a body of delegated constitutional authority. It does not have the authority to seat as voting delegates individuals who were not 21 years of age when elected, this being a limitation placed upon the General Conference by Paragraph 40 of the Constitution.

Statement of Facts

In June, 1971, Edith Spurr and William S. Otwell (appellants) were elected delegates to the 1972 General Conference from the Southern New England and Southern California-Arizona Annual Conferences, respectively. Each was 20 years of age at the time of election, but 21 years of age when the 1972 General Conference opened. Each has been denied a seat in the General Conference because each was less than 21 years of age at the time of election. The 1972 General Conference, on motion of the Chairman of its Credentials Committee, requested a declaratory decision in the matter of the eligibility of Edith Spurr and William S. Otwell to sit as delegates, and for a ruling as to the right of the General Conference to officially seat these and similarly situated persons as duly elected delegates. The General Conference also requested us to reconsider Decision No. 346. We are advised that in at least two other instances persons were elected to the 1972 General Conference when they were under 21 years of age, but over that age when the 1972 General Conference convened. Mary Kay Will was elected by the Baltimore Annual Conference under these circumstances, and she has been seated as a voting member of the 1972 General Conference without challenge, thus far. Sam Roberts was elected under similar circumstances by the West Virginia Annual Conference, but is not at the seat of the Conference, and does not plan to attend. We have held an open hearing on these matters at which all parties in interest were heard. The appellants were represented by a spokesman of their choice who both spoke and filed briefs on their behalf. Representatives of their General Conference delegations were also present and spoke. Bishop D. Frederick Wertz presented the case of Sam Roberts of West Virginia, as did a member of the West Virginia Delegation. A representative of the Baltimore Annual Conference delegation spoke with respect to Mary Kay Will, and filed a brief. A representative of the California-Nevada delegation also spoke. These verbal and written presentations have been helpful in pinpointing the issues. JURISDICTION Jurisdiction is based on Paragraph 1715 (2) of the 1968 Discipline. ANALYSIS The referrals of the General Conference raise three issues: 1) Upon re-examination, do we adhere to our Decision No. 346; 2) Are the appellants entitled to be seated as voting delegates regardless of No. 346 because they were elected before the date of the decision; and 3) May the General Conference officially seat the appellants and similarly situated persons as duly elected delegates regardless of Decision No. 346, on the premise that it is the judge of its own membership. Decision No. 346. In Decision No. 346, we interpreted Paragraph 40 of the Constitution as requiring that a lay delegate to a General or Jurisdictional Conference must be 21 years of age at the time of his election. This is still our reading of that paragraph. It is urged upon us that it would be both more rational and equitable to require that a delegate be 21 years of age at the date of convening of the General or Jurisdictional Conference to which he was elected. This may well be correct, but it is not our function, nor within our power, to rewrite the existing Constitutional requirement to reach a different, even if improved, result. Revision would require a Constitutional amendment. Paragraph 40 was in the Constitution of The Methodist Church from 1952 to its reenactment in the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. So far as we can determine, there were no elections prior to 1971 in which a delegate to a General or a Jurisdictional Conference was elected by an Annual Conference prior to his 21st birthday. Once the requirements of Paragraph 40 are generally understood there is not likely to be a repetition of the present situation in which ineligible delegates are elected. Our attention is called to Decision No. 120, in which we advised that a member of the Judicial Council would be eligible to serve as a delegate to a Jurisdictional Conference after his retirement from the Judicial Council, even though he was not eligible at the time of his election because he was then a member of the Judicial Council. We gave this precedent careful consideration in deciding Decision No. 346, and have reviewed it again. Undoubtedly, the earlier decision dealt with an analogous situation, and the result differs f rom that reached in No. 346. But this is because it is an interpretation of entirely different Disciplinary language than that involved in Paragraph 40 of the Constitution. In Decision No. 120, we considered Paragraph 902 of the 1952 Discipline, in which eligibility is clearly made to depend upon the situation existing at the time of the Jurisdictional Conference, not at the time of election. Contrariwise, we consider Paragraph 40 of the Constitution as making eligibility dependent upon status at the time of election. We are interpreting, not writing legislation in both situations. The applicability to the appellants of Paragraph 40 of the Constitution as interpreted in Decision No. 346. It is urged by spokesmen for the appellants that even if we adhere to the interpretation of Paragraph 40 of the Constitution as given in Decision No. 346, it can have no application to the appellants. This contention is based upon the fact that each was elected with the approval, or at least the acquiescence of the presiding bishop, before our decision was given in Decision No. 346. We cannot accept this position. It is an unfortunate circumstance that Decision No. 346 which was decided in October, 1971 did not come prior to the election of delegates to the 1972 General Conference. Nevertheless, its interpretation of the meaning of Paragraph 40 is determinative of the eligibility of all delegates to the 1972 and all succeeding General and Jurisdictional Conferences. In neither of the two situations before us was there a recorded episcopal ruling on eligibility. At most, there was an unofficial conversation, or an acquiescence read into episcopal approval of the minutes of the Annual Conference sessions. But even if these had been official rulings, they are subject to correction in the light of Decision No. 346. The authority of the General Conference to determine its own membership. Finally, we are asked by the General Conference to rule on its right to seat the appellants and other similarly situated persons as duly elected delegates. The only premise for such action would be an asserted right in the General Conference to act as judge of its own membership regardless of constitutional limitations. We respectfully advise the General Conference that it does not have this right. The powers of the General Conference are delegated to it by the Annual Conferences, the "fundamental bodies of the Church" (Paragraph 10 of the Constitution). The limitations based upon those powers have a similar source. The constitutional authority with respect to the seating of delegates includes the limitations in Paragraph 40. Those limitations can only be changed by a constitutional amendment proposed by the General Conference and approved by the Annual Conferences. However, these constitutional limitations do not apply to delegates who are seated without the right to vote. Nothing we have decided in this decision or in Decision No. 346 would prevent the General Conference from seating the appellants as delegates at large with the right to speak, but not to vote, or from reimbursing them for such expenses as it might deem appropriate. Under the unusual circumstances now before us, there would be equity in such an action.

Decision

Decision No. 346 is re-affirmed. Paragraph 40 of the Constitution, thus interpreted, is applicable to the appellants who were elected prior to Decision No. 346 as delegates to a General or Jurisdictional Conference to be held thereafter. A General Conference does not have the authority to seat as voting delegates individuals who were not 21 years of age when elected.

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