Move to change name of state's high court falls short in House Backers of new title to get second chance to round up votes

March 11, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A constitutional amendment to change the name of Maryland's highest court fell short of the required three-fifths majority in the House of Delegates yesterday, but proponents will get another chance to pass it tomorrow.

Delegates voted 78-57 in favor of changing the name of the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of Maryland -- seven votes fewer than the 85 that were needed. But proponents won a motion to reconsider the measure, giving them 48 hours to round up absentees and persuade skeptical colleagues.

If they can muster the additional votes, the proposal to put the amendment on the November election ballot would be sent to the Senate for its consideration.

The amendment seeks to address a befuddling state of affairs in Maryland. Here the supreme court is not the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals handles only special appeals and the Court of Special Appeals handles appeals that aren't so special.

Maryland is one of only two states -- New York is the other -- that calls its top court something other than the Supreme Court. Proponents of the change argued that out-of-state attorneys, law students and others are frequently misled into thinking Court of Appeals decisions are those of an intermediate court.

That confusion "degrades our judicial opinions," said Del. Dana L. Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill. He noted that the Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 for the bill, which would also change the name of the Court of Special Appeals to the Maryland Appellate Court.

Among those who testified in favor of the bill were two members of the Court of Appeals, which voted 5-2 to support the name change.

Opponents argued that the name Court of Appeals dates to Maryland's 1776 Constitution and should be preserved.

"There's a rich historic tradition," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll County Republican. "I don't think it's necessary to homogenize our monikers for the convenience of other states."

Del. George W. Owings III, a Calvert County Democrat, said the time spent on the bill was a sign "we obviously have too much time on our hands."

"Isn't uniqueness what Maryland's all about?" Owings said, wondering out loud how Virginia, Massachusetts and Kentucky survived all those years as commonwealths rather than states.

But Del. Michael W. Burns said the name Court of Appeals is "an anachronism that should have been changed years ago."

"Just because something is old doesn't mean it is valuable," said the Anne Arundel County Republican.

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals, one of the two dissenters from the court's recommendation, sees some value in the name.

"I think we ought to stay with the Court of Appeals. It has a glorious history," Bell said in an interview.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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