Tomorrow,the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments in a citizen suit involving the Health Care Constitutional Amendment.
The suit asks a basic question that goes to the heart of what it means to live in a constitutional democracy. When the Legislature ignores the constitution and violates the voters' rights can the Court provide a meaningful remedy?
The future of the Health Care Amendment depends on the answer. But, more importantly, so does the future of the initiative amendment process and the balance of power between the legislative and judicial branches of our state government. . The initiative process can be controversial. But it is one of the core checks and balances of governmental power, Massachusetts-style.
Until 1917, only the legislature could put a constitutional amendment before the voters.
That year, the People took some of their power back so they could get around “recalcitrant” legislatures. Last January, a “recalcitrant” legislature faced with an SJC opinion that it must vote issued days before, “thumbed its nose”, at the voters and at the SJC.. Over the objections of 92 of its members, the Legislature cherry-picked and voted on one initiative amendment, same sex marriage, and refused to vote on the other, health care. For practical purposes, it re-wrote the state constitution rendering the initiative amendment process meaningless.
We think that’s a very big deal.
The plaintiffs in this case are asking the SJC to restore the balance of powers approved by the voters in 1917 by ordering the Health Care Amendment onto the 2008 ballot. The Attorney General is arguing that the SJC lacks the power. We disagree. It has crafted remedies to restore the balance of power before. With the SJC’s help, we may have a chance to see if a constitutional right to affordable, comprehensive and equitably financed health and mental health care coverage will help create the political leverage needed to finish the job so many worked so hard to achieve.
Barbara Waters Roop, PhD, JD
John D. Goodson, MD
Co-chairs, Health Care for Massachusetts Campaign
This program aired on November 4, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.