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Decision No. 435

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October 28 1977
In Re: Request from the Florida Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of Its Election Procedures for Electing Delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Digest of Case

The Procedures for nominating ministerial and lay delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences for election by the Annual Conference adopted by the Florida Annual Conference on May 25, 1977 are constitutional.

Statement of Facts

The 1975 session of the Florida Annual Conference voted to request Bishop Joel D. McDavid to appoint a special committee to prepare procedures for nominating delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences. The bishop complied, and the committee made a progress report which was printed in Volume I of the 1976 conference Journal. This progress report was revised, and as revised was approved by the 1977 session of the conference on May 25, 1977. The procedures, which were submitted to the Judicial Council for review as to their constitutionality, were based upon the following sections of the Constitution and law in the 1972 Discipline: Paragraphs 12, 22-24, 38-40,601-2, 608, 610, 614-16, 630, 631.22, 641.3, and 644; and upon Judicial Council Decisions Numbers 352 and 76. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 2515 of the 1976 Discipline. ANALYSIS The procedures for nominating and electing delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences adopted by the Florida Annual Conference were designed, in the words of the committee that prepared them, "In order to facilitate, expedite, and make more equitable the nomination and election of delegates to the General Conference and the Jurisdictional Conference,. . ." They provide for the choosing of a slate of nominees, no more than ten in number, twelve in the case of the Lakeland District, from each of the two categories of delegates, ministerial and lay, by the ministerial and lay members of the Annual Conference, respectively, of each district, meeting separately in meetings called by each District Superintendent no later than March lst of the year when elections are to be held. Further provision is made for publication of the names of all nominees from all the districts prior to the session of the Annual Conference; and for the preparation of separate ministerial and lay ballots with space for "write-in" nominees. No nominations are to be permitted from the floor of the Annual Conference. Under the Constitution, the Annual Conference is the basic body of the Church. As such it has reserved to it among other rights, the right to vote on the election of ministerial and lay delegates to the General and the Jurisdictional or Central Conferences (Paragraph 37. Article II), at the session of the Annual Conference held in the calendar year preceding the sessions of the General, Jurisdictional or Central Conferences (paragraph 601.3; cf. Judicial Council Decision No. 76). Moreover, the Annual Conference possesses "such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution ..." And, "It shall discharge such duties and exercise such powers as the General Conference under the Constitution may determine" (Ibid.). The Constitution (Paragraph 38. Article III; Paragraph 39. Article IV; and Paragraph 40. Article V), specifies that the Annual Conference shall elect ministerial and lay delegates to the General, Jurisdictional or Central Conference in the manner provided therein. It does not, however, set forth any procedure for the nomination of delegates. On the other hand the Annual Conference does have legislated to it certain powers by the General Conference under the Constitution, namely: "The Annual Conference for its own governmentmay adopt rules and regulations not in conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church; . . . " (Paragraph 702). Thus, with no procedure established by the Constitution or the General Conference for the nomination of delegates, the Annual Conference is free to act provided that it violates nothing in the Constitution. What is more, the legislation gives the Annual Conference a wide range of ability to determine procedures by which delegates might be nominated (cf. Judicial Council Decision No. 76). The act of preparing slates of nominees, ministerial and lay, prior to the electing session of the Annual Conference in district meetings by district members of the Annual Conference appears not to be in violation of the Constitution or Disciplinary legislation. In our Decision No. 352, which dealt with a somewhat similar case, we pointed out that there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent election from a panel of nominees prepared in advance of an election of persons to the General (and by implication), to the Jurisdictional Conference. We find nothing to the contrary in the cited Sections of the Constitution and the Discipline. The Florida Annual Conference was within its rights in requesting the bishop to appoint a committee, and in its adoption of the particular procedures for nominating delegates for election to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences who would then be voted upon by the members of the Annual Conference. It is to be observed that in the instant case the question of inequity over against legality referred to in Decision No. 352 is obviated by a provision for write-in nominees on the ballot.

Decision

The Florida Annual Conference acted within its rights under the Constitution when it approved procedures for the nomination of delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences; and the procedures adopted are constitutional to the extent that no contrary legislation was enacted by the 1976 General Conference. Concurring Opinion We have had considerable difficulty regarding acceptance of jurisdiction. We are convinced that as expressed in Decisions 29 and 255, we must construe our jurisdiction strictly and with restraint. This case came to us as a petition for a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality of a report of the Elections Procedures Committee of the Florida Annual Conference. As stated in Decision No. 434, ordinarily we do not have jurisdiction under Paragraph 2515 of the Discipline to make rulings in the nature of a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality or validity of actions or proposed actions of Annual Conferences, but only as to: "... the constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation of a General Conference; ..." The proper method for testing the validity of an action or proposed action of an Annual Conference is either to present the question in writing to the bishop in the regular business of a session of the Conference pursuant to Paragraph 56 of the Constitution so that we will review the decision under Paragraph 2512, or to raise a question of law in a session of the conference and then appeal the decision by a one-fifth vote under Paragraph 251 1. In the instant case, however, our attention is called to a document entitled "Notes on Procedures for the Election of Delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences" which apparently was part of the questioned report. That document refers to Paragraphs 12, 22-24, 38-40, 601-2, 608, 610, 614-16, 630, 631.22, 641.3 and 644 of the Discipline. With some hesitation we will construe the petition to request a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application, or effect of those sections of the 1972 Discipline, or their counterparts in the 1976 Discipline, in relationship to the proposed action of the Florida Conference. Paragraphs 22, 23, 24, 38, 39, 608 and 610 of the 1972 Discipline appear to be unchanged in the 1976 Discipline. 12, 40, 601 and 602 have been amended. 616, 630, 631.22, 641.3 and 644 appear to be unchanged but renumbered respectively 624, 650, 651.22, 671.3 and 676. 614 and 615 have been amended and renumbered respectively 622 and 623. None of the amendments appears to affect this inquiry. We do not interpret any of the cited Paragraphs of the 1976 Discipline to render invalid the proposed action of the Florida Annual Conference. Florence Lucas Edwards Elizabeth B. Gundlach Leonard D. Slutz Gene E. Sease was absent.

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