Decision Number 1401

SUBJECT TO FINAL EDITING


April 16, 2021

DECISION NO. 1401 — IN RE: Request from the Council of Bishops for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality, Meaning, Application or Effect of Paragraph 2553 (Petition 90066 As Amended).

Digest


The Commission on the General Conference acted improperly by nullifying ¶ 2553 (Petition 90066 as amended) in between sessions of the General Conference. The action of the Commission is unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void. Our ruling in JCD 1385 on the validity and effective date of ¶ 2553 is affirmed.

Statement of Facts


Petition 90066 was submitted to the 2019 General Conference including the following prefatory language:

Amend, effective as of the close of the 2019 General Conference, Chapter Six, Church Property, by adding a new Section VIII.  Disaffiliation of Local Churches Over Issues Related to Human Sexuality, then by adding a new P. 2553 as follows:

On February 26, 2019, the Minority Report regarding Petition 90066 was substituted for the Majority Report by a vote of 402-400. As we noted in JCD 1386 “at some point after the close of the 2019 General Conference, the Commission on the General Conference [hereinafter COGC] undertook an extensive investigation of complaints that certain delegates used phony/fraudulent credentials when they voted on the motion to substitute the Minority Report for Petition 90066 as filed (DCA p. 521).” The COGC ruled that the vote on the motion to substitute and the vote on the subsequent motion to approve the petition as amended by the Minority Report was also null and void. Thus, the effect of these actions was that the COGC overruled actions of the General Conference. Having determined that they could not petition the Judicial Council directly, the COGC asked the Council of Bishops [hereinafter COB] to ask the Judicial Council to issue a declaratory decision affirming the COGC’s determination that the votes of the General Conference were null and void. We added the COB Motion on the vote irregularity to the case already filed on the effective date (Docket 1019-4) but declined to waive the Rules of Procedure and decide the case at the fall 2019 session. “Because of the unusual means of getting the issue before us” and “our inability to get the information requested during oral argument,” we decided in JCD 1386 that “it would be in the best interests of the Church, the COB and all Interested Persons to re-schedule the case” for additional briefs at the next session of the Judicial Council. The COGC declared the actions of the General Conference null and void on August 14, 2019, nearly six months after the close of the General Conference. See Exhibit A. The General Conference itself has not acted since the close of General Conference on Petition 90066 or on the voting irregularity issue that was before the COGC.

Jurisdiction


The COB amended their Petition for Declaratory Decision to request us to rule on the effectiveness of the COGC’s determination that the vote to substitute the minority report related to Petition 90066 was null and void. The question of alleged voting irregularities raised in this request is outside our scope of review because “[t]he Judicial Council is not an evidentiary body” and, therefore, lacks the jurisdictional authority to depose witnesses and evaluate their credibility in the manner of a trial court. JCD 702. There is no provision in Church law permitting us to conduct investigative or fact-finding proceedings in order to verify those claims. The 2016 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church [hereinafter the Discipline] is completely silent in matters of electoral integrity and accountability.

While we affirm the principle that the “General Conference is the highest legislative body in our connection” and as such has “the authority to make rules for the organization, conduct of legislative business, and the imposition and enforcement of sanctions for ethics rule violations,” JCD 1362, we must strongly emphasize that this case is not about the power of the General Conference to adopt those rules or the authority of the COGC to implement them. Nor do we address the issue of whether the COGC is authorized to nullify an act of the General Conference while the latter is still in session.

The record indicates that the action of the COGC was taken on August 14, 2019—almost six months after the close of the called session of General Conference. Thus, the present case poses only one specific and narrow question: Was the action of the COGC nullifying ¶ 2553 (Petition 90066 as amended) in between sessions of the General Conference lawful?

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction only with respect to that question pursuant to ¶¶ 2609.1, 2609.4, and 2610. The COB has standing to submit this request under the provisions of ¶¶ 2609.1, 2609.4, and 2610.2(b) of the Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale


In our polity, commissions and committees created by the General Conference are amenable to the General Conference, except as otherwise provided by legislation. JCD 424. The same is true for the COGC, whose composition, powers, and processes are codified in The Discipline, ¶ 511. The language and structure of that provision lend themselves to the conclusion that the COGC was created to function as a subordinate body directly amenable to the General Conference. Amenability refers to “[t]he requirement upon an organized unit in The United Methodist Church to answer to, act under instruction of, agree with, yield to, or submit to another unit in the church structure.” JCD 420, quoting 1976 Discipline, Glossary, p. 592. Under that definition, the COGC is bound to agree with, yield to, or submit to the will of the highest legislative body of the Church. By implication, a subordinate unit is barred from invalidating the decisions of the superior body in the absence of the latter’s action. The COGC has only such powers and duties as conferred by the General Conference. It certainly lacked the authority to overrule a legislative act in between sessions of the General Conference. To hold otherwise is to tacitly endorse “an unauthorized delegation of legislative authority,” which is unconstitutional and prohibited by the separation of powers. JCD 682.

“The separation of authority and decision making is integral to the United Methodist Constitution and law,” demanding that each branch respect the defined roles of all other branches of the Church. JCD 689. The General Conference “shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional,” which includes the authority to enact, amend, and repeal legislation. Const. ¶ 16. “Like any other legislative body, the General Conference has the right to change its mind. It can specifically rescind its own prior action, or it can just ignore it and rescind it by implication.” JCD 424. Generally speaking, “[c]hanges in church law can only be made by the General Conference.” JCD 1274. In the absence of a specific mechanism in The Discipline to address issues of electoral integrity and accountability, any voting irregularities alleged to have occurred during the legislative process should be resolved within the legislative process by the General Conference in accordance with its rules.

Decision


The Commission on the General Conference acted improperly by nullifying ¶ 2553 (Petition 90066 as amended) in between sessions of the General Conference. The action of the Commission is unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void. Our ruling in JCD 1385 on the validity and effective date of ¶ 2553 is affirmed.

Dissenting Opinion


I dissent.

Kabamba Kiboko


I adamantly dissent from the majority opinion. The procedural history seems to be misunderstood in regard t a variety of factors, not the least of which is the fact that the action of the Commission was to declare a vote null and void, not to declare a General Conference action null nor to nullify a prior holding of the Judicial Council.  Rather, the Commission is acting pursuant to the General Conference’s grant of authority and pursuant to the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order. This is the very same constitutional authority which the Judicial Council  fully acknowledged and heralded in  Decision 1362. It is extremely difficult to understand how the Council could issue Decision 1362 with such broad power (I dissented in 1362) and yet in this case, wherein General Conference has the absolute right to set its own Plan of Organization and Rules of Order, the Council decides to ignore the constitutionally permissible authority granted by the General Conference Rules (enabling issues such as the fraudulent voting to be dealt with pursuant to said Rules) and instead frame this matter as declaring legislation null and/or “overturning” Judicial Council rulings “between session.” It’s confounding....

Submitted By

Beth Capen

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