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Decision No. 443

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October 26 1978
In Re: Request from the Virginia Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of its Plan for Electing Jurisdictional and General Conference Delegates.

Digest of Case

The Judicial Council's authority to issue declaratory decisions is limited to the making of rulings as to the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation passed by the General Conference. The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction to consider this request of the Virginia Annual Conference.

Statement of Facts

The 1977 session of the Virginia Annual Conference adopted a resolution that the Rules Committee " . . . should bring to the 1978 session proposals setting forth a plan whereby lists of clergy and laity nominees, or declared candidates, will be available at the electing session of 1979." At the 1978 session of the Annual Conference the Rules Committee's report was adopted. Thereafter the conference passed a resolution that the: " ... Virginia Annual Conference request the Judicial Council to make a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the plan for electing delegates to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences as adopted by the 1978 session of the Annual Conference. (This request is made under provisions of Par. 2515.)" JURISDICTION For the reasons stated in the Analysis the Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction. ANALYSIS Par. 2515 of the Discipline provides that the Judicial Council " . . . shall have jurisdiction 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 request is for a declaratory decision as to a proposed Annual Conference procedure. Paragraphs 2511 and 2512 of the Discipline outline the two methods by which the legality of Annual Conference action can be tested. Under Par. 2511 the procedure would be for the bishop to make a ruling as to the validity of the Annual Conference action. The bishop's ruling could then be appealed to the Judicial Council by one-fifth of the conference present and voting. Under Par. 2512, if the question of law was presented to the bishop in writing in the regular business of the session, the bishop is to report his ruling to the Judicial Council, which would then affirm, modify or reverse the decision. The Discipline thus protects the right of the Annual Conference, as the basic body of the Church, to take any action not in conflict with the Constitution and law of the Church. However, this right is subject to review by the Judicial Council when challenged by one-fifth of the conference present and voting or under the circumstances set forth in Par. 2512 of the Discipline. In the brief submitted by Joseph Mitchell mention is made of the Judicial Council's Decision No. 435. This matter is distinguishable from that case in that, although there was no direct petition for a ruling on the constitutionality, meaning, application or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation of a General Conference as set forth in par. 2515 of the Discipline, the Judicial Council accepted jurisdiction because the petition alleged that the procedures proposed were based upon several specific paragraphs of the Discipline mentioned therein. In this case as in Decision 434 we are simply asked to pass upon the action of the Annual Conference rather than to interpret any provision of the Discipline. We have no right to do so.

Decision

The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction to consider this request of the Virginia Annual Conference. Dissenting Opinion We respectfully dissent from the majority opinion in this matter on the question of jurisdiction. It is our position that the Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2515.2(i) of the 1976 Discipline which states: "any Annual Conference, on matters relating to Annual Conferences or the work therein." Our colleagues correctly state that Par. 2515 of the Discipline provides that the Judicial Council, " . . . shall have jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or any act or legislation of the General Conference." However, they hold that the request before the Council is for declaratory decision as to a proposed Annual Conference procedure. They then limit the right of an Annual Conference to two avenues to the Judicial Council. They cite Par. 2511 outlining a procedure whereby a Bishop can make a ruling as to the validity of Annual Conference action. The Bishop's ruling could then be appealed to the Judicial Council by one-fifth of the Conference present and voting. The second avenue would be under 2512 in which a question of law is presented to the Bishop in writing in regular business of the session. The Bishop then reports his ruling to the Judicial Council which would then affirm, modify, or reverse the decision. Our colleagues, we believe, erroneously feel that this is sufficient protection for the rights of an Annual Conference. They make exception as to the Judicial Council's Decision No. 4355 by stating, "This matter is distinguishable from that case in that although there was no direct petition for a ruling on the constitutionality, meaning, application or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof, or any act or legislation of the General Conference as set forth in 2515 of the Discipline, the Judicial Council accepted jurisdiction because the petition alleged that the procedures proposed were based upon several specific paragraphs of the Discipline mentioned therein." This is a distinction without a difference. Here we have a question in which specifically the Judicial Council was asked for a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality of the plan. Bishop Goodson's statement, as attested by the secretary of the Virginia Annual Conference, specifically stated, "Following the adoption of the report Reverend Joseph Mitchell offered the resolution that the Plan, as approved by the Annual Conference, be submitted to the Judicial Council for a ruling on its constitutionality." To say that this request from the Virginia Annual Conference is a request for a declaratory decision on Annual Conference legislation rather than General Conference legislation begs the question. If the Annual Conference legislation is in violation of the Discipline then it is unconstitutional or illegal. The language of the debate on the floor of the Virginia Annual Conference which was made available to the Judicial Council is replete with references to constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline. The good people of the Virginia Annual Conference were passing a piece of legislation of vital importance to the future of the Conference and are seeking help from the Judicial Council. By narrowing the scope of Par. 2515 of the Discipline the Judicial Council rejected that appeal for help. We do not believe that it is the intent of the Discipline that the Judicial Council be so hypertechnical. An appeal for a declaratory decision should be accepted from an Annual Conference on the broadest possible base. An Annual Conference is made up of clergy and laity. There may, or may not, be any persons learned in the law or in legal proceedings on the floor of an Annual Conference. Most Conferences have Chancellors-but some do not. In that we are a church made up of people, the majority of whom are unlearned in the law, we should not inflict upon them rigid legal requirements in bringing a case before the Judicial Council. If a case or a question before the Judicial Council, even on Annual Conference legislation, involves the interpretation of the Discipline as to the constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline in order to determine the legality or constitutionality of the Annual Conference legislation, then it is appropriate to bring it before the Judicial Council. As it stands now, in that the appeal was rejected, the Virginia plan must be accepted as constitutional. We believe that it would have been anyway. However, now the cloud hangs over the legislation whereby any member of the Conference could ask a ruling from the Bishop and it would be brought before us again automatically anyway. From the standpoint of the availability of the Judicial Council to Annual Conferences for help in these questions as well as from a standpoint of efficiency, we believe the Judicial Council should have accepted jurisdiction in this case. Tom H. Matheny Truman W. Potter Hoover Rupert

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