Guest commentary from Edward Koster,
In 2010, the General Assembly approved an authoritative interpretation (AI) that included the following statements: “Neither the General Assembly nor the GAPJC [General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission] may alter the wording of the Constitution by means of an authoritative interpretation. … The General Assembly and the GAPJC must exercise great care to ensure that any interpretation remains true to the plain meaning and context of the provision interpreted.” It was proposed by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC). This AI fully comported with the intent and historic use of authoritative interpretations, so it was not surprising when the ACC recommended disapproval for the proposed AI that would reinterpret the words “man and a woman” in W-4.9000 to mean something else. The ACC stated that it should not be approved because “it suggests an interpretation contrary to the clear statement of W-4.9000.” It was also not a surprise when a point of order was raised when the proposed AI was moved for approval at the General Assembly in Detroit.
The point of order was that the proposed AI violated Robert’s Rules of Order because it violated our constitution and therefore could not be considered. The Stated Clerk referred it to the ACC for its opinion, and, three and a half minutes into the discussion, the Stated Clerk advised the moderator that based on the advice of the ACC, the motion was constitutional. That was a surprise, and it generated no fewer than nine questions over the next 15 minutes asking in various ways how it was that the ACC could change its advice from what it had written to say the motion was okay. (The full debate can be viewed at Vimeo.com/99068158, beginning at 1:11:40.) The answer the ACC gave to that question was even more startling: “The advice that was given to the ACC … was that … an AI could be in conflict [with the constitution]. It is the responsibility of the council to resolve that conflict.” In a clarification shortly thereafter, the ACC said, “[I]f we have an AI that seems to be in contradiction to the constitution, it would be the responsibility of this council to resolve that tension.”
This is significant because, from that point forward, the discussion turned on the term “tension,” not “contradiction” or “conflict.” It had the effect of redirecting the discussion from something serious (a conflict with the constitution) to something trivial.