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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Supreme Court leaves Legislature alone

Ruling says neither the governor nor the court can order the legislature to sign a bill

Upholding the doctrine of separation of powers among the three branches of government, the Supreme Court of Guam on Wednesday dismissed Gov. Eddie B. Calvo’s petition seeking to compel the legislature into transmitting a contentious borrowing bill to his office.

“The Organic Act vests the legislative powers of the government of Guam solely in the legislative branch,” the court’s decision states.

“Where the judicial branch is involved, our primary concerns are that the judiciary not be drawn into tasks more appropriate to another branch and that its institutional integrity be protected,” it added.

The lawsuit involved the administration-proposed Bill 1 (1-S), which would authorize the governor to borrow $75 million a year for three years, to be paid with the funds initially set aside for tax-refund payments.

The 15-member Legislature voted 7-6 in favor of Bill 1 (1-S) in May 2017. However, the Legislature refused to transmit the bill to the governor, citing a legislative rule which requires a minimum of 8 votes for a bill to pass.

Calvo subsequently sought judicial intervention. In a decision issued November 2017, the Supreme Court of Guam ruled that “a bill can pass if a majority of the senators present vote in favor of the bill.”

“If proposed legislation receives ‘the affirmative vote of a majority of the members present and voting,’ it shall be deemed to have passed, and no further requirements necessary to pass legislation may be imposed,” the Supreme Court states in its opinion.

Despite the court’s decision however, the Legislature continued to hold off on the legislation’s transmittal, saying it was still “evaluating the legal implications” of the Supreme Court’s November decision.

This has prompted Calvo to run back to the court in January 2018, requesting a writ against the Legislature, invoking the court ruling that

purportedly deemed the bill “passed on May 9, 2017.”

The court noted that Calvo’s petition assumed that Bill 1(1-S) was validly passed based solely on its November ruling in which it “expressly refused to make that determination,”

In the second ruling, the court reiterated that it “can make no such assumption” that the bill was indeed passed.

“On the record before the court, there is no indication that Bill 1(1-S) was passed as evidenced by an attested enrolled bill,” the court said.

The court agreed with the Legislature “that the determination of whether legislation has validly passed in fact is a question solely within the purview of the legislative branch.”

Under the Organic Act, the court said, the Legislature has authority to make its own rules of procedure.

“The Standing Rules of the 34th Guam Legislature provide that, before final passage of legislation, a bill must be engrossed and enrolled,” the decision reads.

“Where there are no clear restrictions placed on the Legislature’s discretion in the law-making process, its resolution of legislative procedural issues—including those related to the enrollment of bills—is entitled to deference.”

The court, therefore, declined the governor’s petition to direct the Legislature to pass the borrowing bill, upholding a “well-established principle, rooted in the doctrine of separation of powers, that the courts may not order the Legislature or its members to enact or not to enact, or the governor to sign or not to sign, specific legislation.”

In a statement issued after the court issued its ruling, Speaker Benjamin Cruz said, “I am thankful for the Supreme Court’s decision today and its recognition of the vital role played by the separation of powers in a democracy. I also want to recognize the help and hard work of Attorney Julian Aguon, who labored so well on behalf of the People of Guam. While this specific issue is settled, we all have more work to do.”


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