Legislature poised to give Governor even more power

April 15, 2020:-  Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse. If the Massachusetts Legislature passes the eviction moratorium embodied in this bill, which emerged from the Senate today, it will not only violate two of the bedrock rights that are guaranteed in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, but will also grant to the Governor a power that no executive branch in the Anglosphere — no English monarch even — has claimed since the 17th Century: the power of suspending and dispensing the laws. This is a step backward, a step back to the era of royal absolutism.

It was already bad enough that our full-time salaried lawmakers wished to take private property without compensation and bar people from going to the courts. As I pointed out in a previous post, Article 10 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights guarantees reasonable compensation when the government takes property for public uses and Article 11 guarantees everyone the right to a remedy by recourse to the law and the right to obtain justice freely and promptly. Neither of those articles contains a carve-out for when the Governor declares an emergency.

Now the Legislature intends to strip away another right, one that the people of Massachusetts granted to their Legislature, namely the power to decide how long a statute should remain in force. Section 7 of the new bill says that the eviction moratorium will expire in 120 days unless the Governor extends it. Read that again. Unless the Governor extends it. The alleged power to suspend or dispense legislation was a medieval prerogative reclaimed in the 1640s by Charles I. Things went poorly from there, for both the king and the kingdom.

If this were simply a matter of the Legislature surrendering their own rights to the executive branch, it would merit little more than a meh. But the right is not theirs to give. The purpose behind the separation of powers is to protect the rights of the people, not the rights of their full-time salaried servants in the State House.

If Governor Baker signs this bill into law we will have crossed another constitutional threshold.



2 thoughts on “Legislature poised to give Governor even more power

  1. If we look at History, we can see that the collapse of every empire was preceded by an accelerating erosion of individual rights. Sometimes the collapse was triggered by great inequality between rich and poor, as in The French Revolution. Sometimes internal decadence simply allowed external forces to take over without much of a whimper, as in the Decline of Rome, where the full-fledged and privileged citizens had grown recklessly apathetic.
    In modern America, the statement “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” has never been more appropriate. Representative Democracy itself has been under unrelenting assault for at least three and a half years. The President has usurped the power of Congress, and that awareness has seeped into the legislature of every state. What was once intolerable is now the norm. Raw power has become more important than its expeditious and humanitarian use.
    I pray that somehow, the grand experiment of Democracy coupled with Capitalism-and the hyper-concentration of wealth will somehow morph into some form of benevolent socialism.
    But when has the king ever left the counting house voluntarily?
    He is usually deposed-or worse- by angry, poorly-fed mobs.

    We are now on the very brink of the kind of social and economic unrest and insecurity that can trigger cataclysmic forces that can literally destroy American life as we knew it.
    The suspension of legal rights of owners is just a sad harbinger of things to come.
    But perhaps there is light at the end of this long Covid-Tunnel: perhaps the stimulus is the first step in what may be called basic income for all. Perhaps. Perhaps. We can still hope when a tornado is on the horizon.

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