Judicial Council to review GC2019 actions

Headline-making decisions by the legislative body of The United Methodist Church will be reviewed next month by the denomination's top court. 

The United Methodist Judicial Council has posted its two-item docket for the April 23-26 meeting in Evanston, Illinois, with a reminder of deadlines for request for oral hearings and brief submissions. 

As the special General Conference drew to a close on Feb. 26, delegates approved a request that the top court review the Traditional Plan as amended.

During a Feb. 27 closed meeting following General Conference, the Council of Bishops decided to ask the Judicial Council to make a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of Petition 90066, also adopted by GC2019. The petition outlines procedures for local churches to disaffiliate from the denomination and retain property.

This will not be the first time the Judicial Council has ruled on the legislation in question.

When the court met last October, it reviewed two of the plans — the Traditional Plan and the One Church Plan — that would come before General Conference 2019. In Decision 1366, the court found seven petitions and parts of two others unconstitutional in the 17 implementing petitions of the Traditional Plan.

The October ruling mainly focused on due process and the principle of legality. That principle "means that all individuals and entities are equally bound by church law," the decision said, and the law was to be applied fairly at all levels of the connection.

On the morning of Feb. 26, before GC2019 ended, the Judicial Council again ruled on the Traditional Plan's petitions — along with two "exit plans" for disaffiliation from the denomination — following a request from the General Conference legislative committee. In Decision 1377, the court deemed nine petitions unconstitutional and one other petition partially unconstitutional.

In addition to disaffiliation, those petitions dealt with subjects such as episcopal accountability and responsibilities, composition of boards of ordained ministry and the examination of candidates for ministry by the boards of ordained ministry.

Legislative tracking of the Traditional Plan petitions flagged again by Judicial Council during the February General Conference shows that Petitions 90033, 90034, 90035 and 90037 were amended before being adopted. 

Petition 90033 allows a voting majority of the Council of Bishops to retire a bishop "with or without their consent" and Petition 90034 allows a voting majority of the council to put any bishop in "involuntary leave status." Petition 90035 establishes a "council relations committee" for the Council of Bishops in order to hold individual bishops accountable. 

Petition 90037, on nominees for conference boards of ordained ministry, stipulates that the nominees must certify their intent to uphold, enforce and maintain the laws of the Book of Discipline.

Three other petitions found unconstitutional by Judicial Council — 90038, 90039 and 90040 —were adopted by GC2019 as originally submitted. 

Linda Bloom, assistant news editor, UMNS, based in New York.

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