Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Jurisdictional Issue On The R. Lee Wrights Appeal

On Wednesday, May 6, 2009, the Judicial Committee of the Libertarian Party voted on the issue of whether the Judicial Committee had "subject matter jurisdiction" over the questions raised in the amended appeal of R. Lee Wrights.

The amended appeal submitted to the Judicial Committee by R. Lee Wrights was as follows:

To: Libertarian Party Judicial Committee
From: R. Lee Wrights

On April 17, I appealed my suspension from the LNC. After further consideration, I want to clarify exactly what I am asking for in my appeal. I respectfully request the Committee to rule on the following:

1. Does a failure to maintain a sustaining membership constitute a resignation as claimed by the Secretary and Chair?

2. If Question 1 is answered in the affirmative, how long is the grace period between the time when the membership fee becomes due and the supposed resignation?

3. If Question 1 is answered in the affirmative, does the Secretary or Chair have the authority to decide if and when an effective resignation has taken place?

4. Does a lapse in dues require a "for cause" removal as described in Article 8, Section 5?

Respectfully submitted by,
R. Lee Wrights, At-large

The question of jurisdiction was divided into two parts. I am the only member of the Judicial Committee who voted against our having jurisdiction on both sides of the divided question.

Ruth E. Bennett, the Chair of the Libertarian Party's Judicial Committee, reported the decision as follows:

The Judicial Committee decided to divide the question of jurisdiction into two questions.

Does the Judicial Committee have jurisdiction over the first three questions asked in Mr. Wrights amended appeal: (1) Does a failure to maintain a sustaining membership constitute a resignation as claimed by the Secretary and Chair? (2) If Questions 1 is answered in the affirmative, how long is the grace period between the time when the membership fee becomes due and the supposed resignation? (3) If Question 1 is answered in the affirmative, does the Secretary or Chair have the authority to decide if and when an effective resignation has taken place?

The Judicial Committee decided by a vote of four (Bennett, Hacker, Sarwark, Stevens) to three (Cobb, Nolan, Nicks) that we have no jurisdiction on these three questions.

The fourth question, "Does a lapse in dues require a ‘for cause’ removal described in Article 8, section 5?" is found to be within the Jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee by a vote of six (Bennett, Cobb, Hacker, Nicks, Nolan, Sarwark) to one (Stevens).

We then voted to accept Mr. Wrights appeal on that question alone by a vote of five (Bennett, Cobb, Nicks, Nolan, Sarwark) to two (Hacker, Stevens.)

A telephonic hearing will now be scheduled. Please have any responses or briefs to the Chair of the Judicial Committee by 5P (PDT) on Friday, May 15, 2009. (BennettRuth@...)

Respectfully Submitted,

Ruth E. Bennett
Chair
Libertarian Party Judicial Committee

The "subject matter jurisdiction" of the Judicial Committee is set forth in Article 9, Section 2 of the Libertarian Party Bylaws. It reads as follows:

2. The subject matter jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee is limited to consideration of only those matters expressly identified as follows:

a. suspension of affiliate parties (Article 6, Section 6),
b. suspension of officers (Article 7, Section 8),
c. suspension of National Committee members-at-large (Article 8, Section 5),
d. voiding of National Committee decisions (Article 8, Section 11),
e. challenges to platform planks (Rule 7, Section 9),
f. challenges to Resolutions (Rule 8, Section 2), and
g. suspension of Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates (Article 12, Section 5).

I think it is pretty clear that the delegates who adopted the above language meant it when they stated the subject matter jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee is LIMITED to consideration of ONLY THOSE MATTERS EXPRESSLY IDENTIFIED and then went on to state the exact sections of the bylaws and convention rules under which the Judicial Committee has the power to exercise that subject matter jurisdiction.

The only possible stated grounds under which the Judicial Committee can take "subject matter jurisdiction" over the amended appeal of R. Lee Wrights is Article 9, Section 2, Sub-Section c dealing with suspension of National Committee members-at-large under Article 8, Section 5.

The relevant portion of Article 8, Section 5 reads as follows:

The National Committee may, for cause, suspend any member-at-large by a vote of 2/3 of the entire National Committee. The suspended member-at-large may challenge the suspension by an appeal in writing to the Judicial Committee within seven days of receipt of a notice of suspension. Failure to appeal within seven days shall confirm the suspension and bar any later challenge or appeal.

Now as far as I know, the National Committee did not by a 2/3 vote of the entire LNC suspend R. Lee Wrights "for cause" and did not send him a notice of suspension. Hence, in my opinion, the Judicial Committee lacks "subject matter jurisdiction" over his appeal. Had he been suspended "for cause" by a 2/3 vote of the entire LNC, that action would be within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee, and if in such a situation, we found in his favor, we could order reinstatement. However, in this case, Mr. Wrights' sustaining membership dues lapsed and his seat was declared vacant. He was not "suspended" under the provisions of Article 8, Section 5. Therefore, it is clear to me that the Judicial Committee has no jurisdiction in this matter.

Let's revisit selected portions of R. Lee Wrights' amended appeal, just to make sure my logic is sound. Mr. Wrights asked the Judicial Committee to consider the following appeal:

I want to clarify exactly what I am asking for in my appeal. I respectfully request the Committee to rule on the following:

1. Does a failure to maintain a sustaining membership constitute a resignation as claimed by the Secretary and Chair?

2. If Question 1 is answered in the affirmative, how long is the grace period between the time when the membership fee becomes due and the supposed resignation?

3. If Question 1 is answered in the affirmative, does the Secretary or Chair have the authority to decide if and when an effective resignation has taken place?

On these three questions, the vote of the Judicial Committee was 4 to 3 against the Judicial Committee having "subject matter jurisdiction". All three questions dealt with asking the Judicial Committee to issue an advisory opinion on a matter dealing with what Mr. Wrights refers to as a "resignation", a "supposed resignation" and an "effective resignation". It does not deal with a "suspension" having taken place under Article 8, Section 5 of the bylaws.

Bennett, Hacker, and Sarwark joined me in voting against the Judicial Committee having subject matter jurisdiction on these questions. Cobb, Nolan and Nicks voted in favor of the Judicial Committee having jurisdiction. so the vote was 4 to 3 against jurisdiction.

The fourth question posed by R. Lee Wrights was the following:

4. Does a lapse in dues require a "for cause" removal as described in Article 8, Section 5?

There are problems obviously with the wording of the question itself since Article 8, Section 5, speaks of a "suspension" "for cause" and not a removal and, of course, Mr. Wrights does not state any particular relief he is seeking but that aside, I will address here only whether the question posed gives rise to the Judicial Committee having "subject matter jurisdiction" over this matter.

At first glance, you might think it does give the Judicial Committee subject matter jurisdiction because the appeal language specifically mentions Article 8, Section 5. Every member of the Judicial Committee voted in favor of the Judicial Committee having jurisdiction over this matter except me.

My reasoning is clear to me but obviously wasn't persuasive enough to convince the other Judicial Committee members. To me, for the Judicial Committee to have subject matter jurisdiction, there had to be an Article 8, Section 5 "suspension" "for cause" by a 2/3 vote of the entire LNC. Since there was not such a "suspension" under Article 8, Section 5, the Judicial Committee does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the issue even though Mr. Wrights mentions that section of the bylaws in his amended appeal.

The Judicial Committee is not in the business of issuing advisory opinions on matters not within its subject matter jurisdiction. If there was no "suspension" "for cause" by a 2/3 vote of the entire LNC under Article 8, Section 5, it is my opinion, and my opinion alone, that the Judicial Committee should not be hearing this matter but since Bennett, Hacker, Sarwark, Cobb, Nolan and Nicks all voted to accept jurisdiction on Question 4 of the R. Lee Wrights amended appeal, the matter is now going forward and a formal Hearing is in the process of being scheduled.

In Liberty,

Dr. Tom Stevens
Judicial Committee Member
Libertarian Party

1 comment:

  1. Your reasoning on the first three is accurate, but not on the fourth.

    Suspension by the LNC vote is only a step in the removal process, and absent a successful appeal to the Judicial Committee, the suspension becomes a removal. Therefore Article 8, Section 5 does in fact deal with the removal process, and the suspension process you mention is a part of that removal process. Mr. Wrights' fourth question did accurately ask about the removal process, which includes the suspension process. Had Mr. Wrights asked only about the suspension process instead of a removal process, then the question, had it been deemd proper, would have been more limited in scope, with the logical follow-on of applying to the entire removal process in the first place.

    Furthermore, your logic in claiming that there had to be a suspension in order for the Judicial Committee to have jurisdiction is also flawed. That's getting the cart before the horse. Mr. Wrights is claiming that his dues lapse was in fact a "for cause" reason that would trigger the need for the 2/3 vote in the first place to start the suspension and removal process. IOW, there had to be a suspension before there could be a removal by the body. Since it is clear that Mr. Wrights did not remove himself by death, resignation, or attendance, then the only other way for him to be removed is by the process of suspension by the LNC, and that never happened, yet he was allegedly removed anyway without that process, and that's the core question.

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