When voters consider their ballots in the general election, they’ll face five questions that would change the Maryland Constitution.
Question 1: Renaming the state’s appeals courts
Maryland’s two appeals courts are confusingly named: The Court of Special Appeals is the lower court, and the Court of Appeals is the state’s highest court. This constitutional amendment, if approved, would rename the courts as the “Appellate Court of Maryland” and the “Supreme Court of Maryland.” If the name change goes through, the judges on the state’s highest court would also see their titles changed to “justice” or “chief justice.”
The cost of renaming the courts is expected to be “minimal and absorbable” within the court system’s budget.
A vote for the amendment would rename the courts.
A vote against the amendment would keep the current names.
Question 2: Tightening residency requirements for state lawmakers
This change would require candidates for state senator and state delegate to have “maintained a primary place of abode” in the district they want to represent for at least six months before the election. The current requirement is that a candidate must have “resided in” the district.
The issue of whether candidates live in their districts is a perpetual one, but the impetus for this proposed change dates back to 1998, when then-Sen. Clarence W. Blount was alleged to be living in Baltimore County, not the Baltimore City district he represented. The state’s highest court found that although Blount rarely slept at a city apartment, he “did not intend to abandon his Baltimore City domicile and establish a new domicile in Baltimore County.”
Blount was allowed to stay on the ballot, won reelection, retired in 2002 and died in 2003.
Sen. Charles Sydnor sponsored this constitutional amendment on the grounds that the courts gave too much leeway to candidates, essentially allowing them to establish a residence in a district without really living there.
“Too often, we hear rumors about legislators living outside of the district that they represent,” Sydnor, a Baltimore County Democrat, wrote fellow lawmakers in written testimony in 2021. “We must amend the current constitutional language to require representatives and individuals seeking office to maintain a place of abode in the district they represent.”
A vote for the amendment would require, starting in 2024, that candidates for state senator and state delegate have “maintained a place of abode” in their district for at least six months
A vote against the amendment would keep the current residency requirement that those candidates must have “resided” in their district for at least six months.
Question 3: Adjusting rules for requesting a jury in civil trials
Currently, if you’re involved in a civil lawsuit, you can request a trial with a jury, instead of a judge, if you’re seeking $15,000 or more. This constitutional change would increase that amount to $25,000.
This threshold has been increased periodically over the years, and the current level of $15,000 was set in 2010.
A vote for the amendment would increase the minimum amount in dispute for a civil case to qualify for a jury trial to $25,000.
A vote against the amendment would keep the minimum amount in dispute for a civil case to qualify for a jury trial at $15,000.
Question 4: Legalizing marijuana use for adults
Under current Maryland law, the simple possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor, and depending on the amount, can be punishable by imprisonment of up to six months and/or fines.
Question 4 lets voters decide whether to legalize the use and simple possession of marijuana for those over 21 and would provide pathways to resentencing, release and expungement of simple marijuana possession convictions.
A vote for the amendment would legalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older on July 1, 2023, and would automatically expunge past simple marijuana possession convictions starting on Jan. 1, 2023 in cases where simple marijuana possession was the only charge.
Those currently detained on simple marijuana possession convictions could petition for release beginning Jan. 1, 2023. If a simple possession of marijuana charge was one of many charges, an individual can ask a court to expunge just the simple possession charge.
If passed, the new law would also allow Marylanders to grow two marijuana plants on private property as long as they were kept out of public view.
The law would also require the state to collect data, study cannabis use, and analyze if adult-use market disparities exist for small businesses and businesses owned by women and minorities.
A vote against the amendment would keep the simple possession of marijuana illegal.
Question 5: Abolishing the Howard County Orphan’s Court
Except for Harford and Montgomery counties, every Maryland county and Baltimore City has a three-member judicial panel called an Orphans’ Court that oversees the management of the estates of those who have died, with or without a will. In counties without an orphans’ court, circuit court judges hear probate cases.
Voters elect Orphans’ Court judges every four years.
During the 2022 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill which will allow voters to decide if the same should happen in Howard County. The Howard County delegation sponsored the bill.
A vote for the amendment would eliminate the Howard County Orphans’ Court and refer the court’s caseload to the Howard County Circuit Court. Howard County voters would no longer elect Orphans’ Court judges. A probate decision made in the circuit court would then be appealed in the Court of Special Appeals.
A vote against the amendment would keep the Orphans’ Court in place and allow voters to select the court’s judges every four years.