Judicial Council Decisions

Decision No. 1210

In Re: Request From The 2012 General Conference For A Declaratory Decision On The Constitutionality Of Plan UMC With Respect To ¶¶ 16.8 And 16.9

DIGEST OF CASE

Under the Constitution, the creation and establishment of general Church boards and agencies, the fixing of their structure, the determination of their functions, duties and responsibilities, and the establishing of Church priorities are legislative functions reserved to the General Conference alone. These legislative functions may not be delegated. The Constitution limits the General Conference in the authority it may delegate to the boards and agencies it creates. This authority is limited to the work of promotion and administration. Such boards and agencies as the General Conference establishes under its constitutional authority may not determine policies of the Church, nor may they determine their own functions except as such action is consistent with actions already taken by the General Conference. These boards and agencies are not free to transfer functions or change internal structures that have been specified in the Discipline through legislative enactments of the General Conference. Plan UMC is unconstitutional.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

On May 2, 2012, the General Conference adopted the legislative proposal referred to as “Plan UMC” (DCA, p. 2639). Plan UMC came before the General Conference after three other legislative proposals failed to garner a sufficient number of votes for recommendation by the Legislative Committee on General Administration. A group of delegates met unofficially to negotiate and propose an alternative and compromise plan known as Plan UMC, which was presented to the General Conference as a substituted plan of organization. The General Conference suspended its rules and authorized the printing of the plan of structure. Upon consideration, the substitute plan of structure, known as Plan UMC (DCA, pp. 2537-2596), was adopted by a vote of 567 in favor and 384 against. (DCA, p. 2639)

Thereafter, the General Conference voted to request a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality of Plan UMC by a vote in excess of one-fifth of the members of the General Conference. The text of the request for a declaratory decision is as follows:

I move that the General Conference request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council as to whether any aspect of the legislation known as Plan UMC is in conflict with the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. In particular, does the plan conflict with Article 16.8 and 16.9?


JURISDICTION


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ¶ 2609.1 of the 2008 Discipline.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE


Paragraph 16.8 of the Constitution authorizes the General Conference “to direct all connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration.” Hence, it is within the constitutional authority of the General Conference to develop a plan or plans for the structure and operations of the Church. However, to meet the test of constitutionality, such a plan or plans must not only emerge under the cloak of constitutional authority, but must also avoid intruding into any other constitutional authority. In the case of Plan UMC, the amended language of ¶ 901.2 and ¶ 901.4 provides the following:

The General Council for Strategy and Oversight (GCSO) shall have oversight responsibility for all program agencies of The United Methodist Church. … (Amendment of ¶ 901.2, DCA, p. 2551)

The General Council for Strategy and Oversight oversight responsibility shall include the authority for consolidation of administrative services to the extent practicable for all general church activities into the appropriate agency on a fee for service basis as it affects agencies receiving general church funds. (Amendment of ¶ 901.4, DCA, p. 2552)


On the basis of this test, Plan UMC has a serious constitutional defect. In ¶ 47, the Constitution authorizes the Council of Bishops to bear the responsibility for general oversight. The constitutional authority of the Council of Bishops cannot be compromised or modified by legislative enactments. As ¶ 47 (Article III) of the Constitution provides:

The council shall meet at least once a year and plan for the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church and for carrying into effect the rules, regulations, and responsibilities prescribed and enjoined by the General Conference…


There is an additional constitutional defect in Plan UMC. In amending ¶ 705.5d (2), Plan UMC provides the following:

The Council of Bishops shall elect one bishop to serve as a member of the General Council for Strategy and Oversight.


Plan UMC commingles the role of the Council of Bishops and its responsibility for “general oversight” with the role of oversight by the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. It creates an overlapping authority for which no constitutional authorization exists. It is constructed upon a flawed application of the Constitution.

There are other constitutional problems with Plan UMC. Under ¶ 16.9, the General Conference is authorized to “determine and provide for raising and distributing funds necessary to carry on the work of the Church.” Plan UMC would delegate the “distributing” power to the General Council for Strategy and Oversight. According to the action of the General Conference amending ¶ 905.8 of the 2008 Discipline, the General Council on Strategy and Oversight:

… may direct the General Council on Finance and Administration to withhold funding for any programs and activities until the GCSO determines that the responsible general agency has achieved, or identified means satisfactorily to achieve, the established outcomes.


This provision unconstitutionally delegates the authority of the General Conference for “distributing funds necessary to carry on the work of the Church” to the General Council on Strategy and Oversight, contrary to ¶ 16.9. See Decision 30.

When reviewing legislation for constitutionality, we defer to the legislative authority of the General Conference. In reviewing acts of the General Conference for constitutionality, our first inclination is to save legislation, if at all possible, and not destroy. Although the adoption of Plan UMC by the General Conference came through a tortured course, and outside of the established legislative processes, we do not review those processes. Our review in this case is confined to constitutionality. We have reviewed the plan to determine whether any part, portion, or all of Plan UMC can be saved and conclude that it cannot. The broad delegation of legislative authority and the commingling of the role of oversight so inextricably permeate the Plan as to render it constitutionally unsalvageable. Regardless of whether Plan UMC was properly adopted under the constitutional authority of the General Conference as provided in ¶ 16.8, it does not meet the broader requirements of the Constitution.

Under the Constitution, the creation and establishment of general Church boards and agencies, the fixing of their structure, the determination of their functions, duties and responsibilities, and the establishing of Church priorities are legislative functions reserved to the General Conference alone. These legislative functions may not be delegated. The Constitution limits the General Conference in the authority it may delegate to the boards and agencies that it creates. This authority is limited to the work of promotion and administration. Such boards and agencies as the General Conference establishes under its constitutional authority may not determine policies of the Church, nor may they determine their own functions except as such action is consistent with actions already taken by the General Conference. These boards and agencies are not free to transfer functions and change internal structures that have been specified in the Discipline through legislative enactments of the General Conference. See Decision 364 Plan UMC is unconstitutional.

DECISION

Under the Constitution, the creation and establishment of general Church boards and agencies, the fixing of their structure, the determination of their functions, duties and responsibilities, and the establishing of Church priorities are legislative functions reserved to the General Conference alone. These legislative functions may not be delegated. The Constitution limits the General Conference in the authority it may delegate to the boards and agencies it creates. This authority is limited to the work of promotion and administration. Such boards and agencies as the General Conference establishes under its constitutional authority may not determine policies of the Church, nor may they determine their own functions except as such action is consistent with actions already taken by the General Conference. These boards and agencies are not free to transfer functions or change internal structures that have been specified in the Discipline through legislative enactments of the General Conference. Plan UMC is unconstitutional.

Friday, May 04, 2012.


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