Lawsuit Over Bi-Partisan Preparatory Commission
November 7, 1994
- On November 7, 1994 (one day prior to the general election of November 8, 1994), Governor Sundlun executed Executive Order 94-20 establishing a bi-partisan preparatory Commission, as required by Section 2 of Article XIV of the Constitution of Rhode Island.
- The members of the Commission established by Executive Order 94-20 were not formally notified of their appointment and only one member was even informally notified of her appointment.
- The preparatory Commission established by Executive Order 94-20 never convened.
- In Cote v Almond, PC No. 98-2953, plaintiffs sought a declaration that Executive Order 94-20 “violated Article 12, Section 2 of the Rhode Island Constitution because the Order of November 7, 1994, establishing a preparatory commission was inherently incapable of fulfilling its constitutional duty of assembling information on constitutional questions for the electors the very next day’s vote on the question, ‘Shall there be a convention to amend or revise the Constitution?’”
- The Court dismissed the lawsuit, arguing, in part: “for this Court to find that but for the failure of Governor Sundlun to properly organize a bi-partisan preparatory commission the voters would have voted in favor of the convening of a constitutional convention would be rank speculation. Accordingly, the prayer to declare that because of the absence of a bi-partisan preparatory commission the rights of the plaintiffs to amend the Constitution were violated is denied.”
- The Court thus signaled that violating the spirit of the constitutional requirement to convene a serious bi-partisan preparatory commission would henceforth not be penalized by the courts.
At issue is the interpretation of Article 14, Section 2 of the Constitution of Rhode Island and the remedy to be ordained if a violation of said Constitution was committed. Article XIV, Section 2 provides:
The general assembly, by a vote of a majority of the members elected to each house, may at any general election submit the question, “Shall there be a convention to amend or revise the constitution?” to the qualified electors of the state. If the question be not submitted to the people at some time during any period of ten years, the secretary of state shall submit it at the next general election following said period. Prior to a vote by the qualified electors on the holding of a convention, the general assembly, or the governor if the general assembly fails to act, shall provide for a bi-partisan preparatory commission to assemble information on constitutional questions for the electors. If a majority of the electors voting at such election on said question shall vote to hold a convention, the general assembly at its next session shall provide by law for the election of delegates to such convention. The number of delegates shall be equal to the number of members of the house of representatives and shall be apportioned in the same manner as the members of the house of representatives. No revision or amendment of this constitution agreed upon by such convention shall take effect until the same has been submitted to the electors and approved by a majority of those voting thereon.
November 8, 1994
Date of referendum on whether to convene a state constitutional convention. For ballot text, see Secretary of State’s Voter Information Handbook
November 10, 1994
Governor Sundlun rescinds Executive Order 94-20 establishing a bi-partisan preparatory Commission.