The political party system is enshrined in Maryland’s Constitution and statutes, including requiring that each party have a Central Committee in each County whose members are elected during that party’s primary election. The State Constitution in fact includes a role for those party committees in selecting legislators to fill any vacancies that occur in either House, which was explored in an opinion recently authored by Chief Judge Barbera of the Court of Appeals in a case called Kathy Fuller v. Republican Central Committee of Carroll County.
Section 13(a) of Article III of the Maryland Constitution provides that in the event of a vacancy in the General Assembly, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill the vacancy whose name is submitted in writing within 30 days of the vacancy by the Central Committee of the political party of the vacating legislator. This case arose because Senator Joseph Getty resigned his seat to accept an appointment in Governor Hogan’s administration. The Republican Central Committee from Sen. Getty’s home county advertised that it would be selecting one name from applicants for the position, and after conducting interviews selected one person and drafted a letter to submit that name. However, five members of the Committee then met privately with the Governor’s staff, and it was alleged that at the request of the Governor’s staff three names were submitted. The original letter just naming one candidate was sent to the Governor by another Committee member, which led to this lawsuit by some committee members challenging the submission of more than one name for selection to the vacant seat.
On the day of the Court hearing seeking an injunction, Del. Ready who had been sued in the case told the Court the Governor had selected him from the list of three names, and he had already accepted and resigned his seat in the House of Delegates to become a Senator. This left a vacancy in the House, and the Governor asked the Committee to submit a list with multiple names from which the Governor could choose. The suit was amended to challenge this action as well. The trial judge declined to issue an injunction to prevent the Committee from submitting more than one name, and the Court of Appeals agreed to hear the case.
Judge Barbera’s opinion first addressed whether the case raised a justiciable controversy, that is one that could be resolved by the Court given the political nature of the issues. The Court found that this was the type of dispute appropriate for court determination and not merely a political question, since it involved whether “acts by a party exceeded the limits of its power.” Interpretation of Constitutional provisions such as this, the Court found, was an appropriate exercise of judicial authority.
The Court then found that the Constitution did not limit the party Committee to submitting only one name to the Governor to fill a legislative vacancy. While the party was given this role, it could submit one or more than one name from which the Governor must choose, or no name at all so that the Governor could fill the vacancy at his discretion. The Court noted that this provision addresses the Legislator’s desire to address its concern over honoring party affiliation, while avoiding the cost of special elections.