A couple of weeks ago, I noted that a Georgia court ruled a constitutional amendment unconstitutional, purportedly on the grounds that it failed a requirement that amendments deal with a single subject, even though that amendment dealt with only one subject.
Here’s the operative part of the amendment, lifted from its complete text:
Except as mandated by federal law, the provision of non-emergency services by the state of Colorado, or any county, city, or other political subdivision thereof, is restricted to citizens of and aliens lawfully present in the United States of America.
And here is the Court’s reasoning:
The ruling said Defend Colorado Now touts the possibility of reducing taxpayer expenditures by restricting illegal immigrantsâ€™ access to services, as well as the goal of restricting access to services.
“Because we determine these purposes are unrelated, we conclude they comprise multiple subjects connected only by a broad and overarching theme,” the ruling said.
Note that the text of the amendment says nothing at all about revenues, it only speaks of spending. In fact, it doesn’t even speak of spending, it speaks of services to be provided or denied. The fact that these services cost money is, while an unfortunate fact of life and governance, completely incidental to the language of the amendment. Were Marx to be proven triumphant, and the State be able to provide services without paying for them, the text of the amendment would still be operative. The idea that arguments used in the advocacy of any amendment actually have any force of law is bizarre to say the least, especially for a Court that has a pronounced distaste for the actual legislative histories of bills.
In fact, it’s hard to conceive of any ballot initiative which would pass this test. Measures directly related to revenue by definition potentially affect the tax burden in a state with a balanced budget law and TABOR spending restrictions. That’s reading the decision narrowly. Reading it broadly, any sentence containing more than one word necessarily encompasses two things.
By the Colorado Supreme Court’s logic, an amendment to make the term of the Colorado Governor six years instead of four years would violate the “single subject rule” because it deals with the “subjects” of elections, officeholders, spending (for the governor’s salary), and taxes (to get the money for the governor’s salary).
If that’s the case, all constitutional amendments are unconstitutional!
Which really means, there is no constitution at all. The judges will block whatever votes they don’t like, mandate whatever they do like, and the people won’t be able to do anything about it.
At what point do we stop calling this democracy?