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Anderson v. Attorney General

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

June 18, 2018

CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON & others[1]
v.
ATTORNEY GENERAL & others.[2]

          Heard: February 6, 2018.

         Civil action commenced in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk on October 3, 2017. The case was reported by Gants, C.J.

          Kevin P. Martin (David J. Zimmer & Joshua J. Bone also present) for the plaintiffs. Kate R. Cook (Lisa C. Goodheart also present) for the interveners.

          Juliana deHaan Rice, Assistant Attorney General (Daniel J. Hammond, Assistant Attorney General, also present) for the defendants.

          The following submitted briefs for amici curiae:

          Francis X. Wright, Jr., City Solicitor of Somerville, David P. Shapiro, Assistant City Solicitor of Somerville, Charles D Boddy, Jr., City Attorney of Lawrence, George Markopoulos, Assistant City Solicitor of Lynn, Mark Rumley, City Solicitor of Medford, Mikaela A. McDermott, City Solicitor of New Bedford, _& Alan Seewald, City Solicitor of Northampton, for mayor of Somerville & others.

          Joseph E. Sandier & Para Lindenbaum, of the Pistrict of Columbia, Ben T. Clements, & Jessica Pormitzer for Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

          Thomas 0. Bean for Alliance for Business Leadership. Andrea C. Kramer for Center on Budget and Policy Priorities & another. John Pagliaro & Martin J. Newhouse for New England Legal Foundation.

          Mark G. Matuschak, Robert K. Smith, & Colleen McCullough for Pioneer Institute, Inc., & another.

          Steven P. Lehotsky, Pan Himmelfarb, & John T. Lewis, of the Pistrict of Columbia, for Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America.

          Richard Juang for Adela Gonzalez & others.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          GAZIANO, J.

         The Attorney General certified as suitable for printing on the 2018 Statewide ballot an initiative petition that would ask voters in the Commonwealth to decide whether to amend the existing flat tax rate mandated by the Massachusetts Constitution in order to impose a graduated tax on residents with incomes in excess of $1 million. The language of Initiative Petition 15-17 also provides that, "subject to appropriation" by the Legislature, all revenues received from the proposed tax "shall" be earmarked for two budgetary purposes: education and transportation.

         The plaintiffs, registered voters in the Commonwealth, seek to exclude the petition from the ballot on the ground, inter alia, that it does not meet the related subjects requirement of art. 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. In addition, the plaintiffs contend that the petition would constitute a "specific appropriation of money from the treasury of the commonwealth, " contrary to the explicit prohibition in art. 48, The Initiative, II, § 2, of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution against such appropriations, and that the drafters of art. 48, at the Constitutional Convention of 1917-1918, did not intend that tax rates be set by initiative petitions.[3] The plaintiffs filed a complaint in the county court challenging the Attorney General's certification of the initiative petition and seeking to enjoin the Secretary of the Commonwealth (Secretary) from placing the petition on the 2018 Statewide ballot. The single justice reserved and reported the case for consideration by the full court.

         We conclude that the initiative petition should not have been certified by the Attorney General as "in proper form for submission to the people, " because, contrary to the certification, the petition does not contain only subjects "which are related or which are mutually dependent, " pursuant to art. 48, The Initiative, II, § 3, of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, as amended by art. 74 of the Amendments.[4]

         1. Background.

         a. Article 44.

         To place the issue in context, a brief description of the mandatory flat tax rate in the Massachusetts Constitution is necessary. Article 44 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, ratified in 1915, allows the Legislature to levy a State income tax on Massachusetts residents at a "uniform rate." See Drapkin v. Commissioner of Revenue, 420 Mass. 333, 336 (1995) . Article 44 provides, in relevant part:

"Full power and authority are hereby given and granted to the general court to impose and levy a tax on income in the manner hereinafter provided. Such tax may be at different rates upon income derived from different classes of property, but shall be levied at a uniform rate throughout the commonwealth upon incomes derived from the same class of property."

         Pursuant to art. 44, the State income tax "must be calculated by applying a single, flat rate percentage to a particular class of income." Peterson v. Commissioner of Revenue, 441 Mass. 420, 427 (2004). As a result of this provision, therefore, the Legislature is precluded from imposing a graduated income tax on Massachusetts taxpayers. See Opinion of the Justices, 383 Mass. 940, 941-942 (1981); Opinion of the Justices, 266 Mass. 583, 588 (1929) .

         Over the past fifty years, a number of initiative petitions seeking to amend art. 44, in order to permit a graduated income tax, have been certified and presented to the voters. In 1962, 1968, 1972, and 1976, proposals to amend the flat tax rate were placed on the ballot by the Legislature; in 1994, the ballot initiative seeking to amend the flat tax was the product of a voter-initiated petition. In all five of these measures, the graduated income tax, alone, was the sole subject of the ballot question. In 1994, for example, the ballot question stated:

"This proposed constitutional amendment would require Massachusetts income tax rates to be graduated, in order to distribute the burden of the tax fairly and equitably. The proposed amendment would require the rates for taxpayers in higher income brackets to be higher than the rates for taxpayers in lower income brackets. The proposed amendment would also allow the state Legislature to grant reasonable exemptions and abatements and establish the number and range of tax brackets. The proposed amendment would eliminate from the Massachusetts Constitution the present requirement that income taxes must be levied at a uniform rate throughout the state upon incomes derived from the same class of property."

         Voters rejected this petition by a margin of sixty-five to twenty-eight per cent of votes cast. On the same ballot, voters also rejected, by a margin of sixty-five to twenty-seven per cent of votes cast, an initiative petition that a statute be enacted requiring graduated income tax rates.

         b. Initiative Petition 15-17.

         By August 5, 2015, at least ten registered voters had filed with the Attorney General the initiative petition at issue here, entitled, "An Initiative Petition for An Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth to Provide Resources for Education and Transportation through an additional tax on Incomes in excess of One Million Dollars." The petition would amend art. 44 by adding the following:

"To provide the resources for quality public education and affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation, all revenues received in accordance with this paragraph shall be expended, subject to appropriation, only for these purposes. In addition to the taxes on income otherwise authorized under this Article, there shall be an additional tax of 4 percent on that portion of annual taxable income in excess of $1, 000, 000 (one million dollars) reported on any return related to those taxes. To ensure that this additional tax continues to apply only to the commonwealth's highest income residents, this $1, 000, 000 (one million dollar) income level shall be adjusted annually to reflect any increases in the cost of living by the same method used for federal income tax brackets. This paragraph shall apply to all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2019."

         On September 2, 2015, the Attorney General certified to the Secretary that the petition "is in proper form for submission to the people; that the measure is not, either affirmatively or negatively, substantially the same as any measure which has been qualified for submission to the people at either of the two preceding biennial state elections; and that it contains only subjects that are related or are mutually dependent and which are not excluded from the initiative process pursuant to Article 48, the Initiative, Part II, Section 2."

         After the Attorney General's certification, the proponents of the initiative petition gathered and submitted sufficient additional signatures to the Secretary so that the Secretary transmitted the measure to the Legislature. See art. 48, The Initiative, II, §§ 1, 3, 4, as amended by art. 74. On May 18, 2016, more than one-quarter of the members of both houses of the Legislature voted in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment, and it was referred to the next legislative session. See art. 48, The Initiative, IV, § 4. On June 14, 2017, more than one-quarter of the members of both houses again voted to approve the proposed amendment. This litigation followed.

         On October 3, 2017, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in the county court seeking a declaration pursuant to G. L. c. 214, § 1, that the initiative petition does not comply with the requirements of art. 48; they also sought an order quashing the Attorney General's certification and an injunction preventing the Secretary from placing the initiative petition on the general election ballot to be put before the voters in November, 2018. Ten registered voters who support the petition were allowed to intervene in the case. The single justice then reserved and reported the matter for decision by the full court.

         The plaintiffs contend that the Attorney General's certification of the petition was improper for three reasons. First, they argue that the petition combines "three very different subject matters: whether to impose a graduated income tax, and whether to give preferential treatment in state spending to two unrelated subject matters -- education and transportation, " contrary to the requirement of art. 48, The Initiative, II, § 3, as amended by art. 74, that an initiative petition address only related or mutually dependent subjects. Second, the plaintiffs maintain that the earmarking of the tax revenues that would be raised by the new tax would violate the prohibition of art. 48 against imposing "specific appropriation[s]" by initiative petitions. See art. 48, The Initiative, II, § 2. Third, the plaintiffs assert that an initiative petition may not be used to usurp the Legislature's authority to tax, and that a petition to modify the Massachusetts Constitution is on a different footing in this regard from a petition to create a statute.

         2. Standard of review.

         A challenge to the Attorney General's decision to certify an initiative petition is reviewed de novo. See Abdow v. Attorney Gen., 468 Mass. 478, 487 (2014). In reviewing a challenge to an initiative petition proposed by at least ten registered voters in the Commonwealth, we construe art. 48 in a manner "mindful that art. 48 establishes a 'people's process, '" Bates v. Director of the Office of Campaign & Political Fin., 436 Mass. 144, 154 (2002), quoting Buckley v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 371 Mass. 195, 199 (1976), that "gives the people of Massachusetts the opportunity 'to enact statutes regardless of legislative opposition'" and to "move forward on measures which they deem[] necessary and desirable, " regardless of legislative opposition. Bates, supra, quoting Citizens for a Competitive Mass. v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 413 Mass. 25, 30 (1992). See Carney v. Attorney Gen., 451 Mass. 803, 814 (2008).

         At the same time, however, we are obligated to safeguard the integrity of the initiative petition process by requiring that those seeking to change the law strictly comply with art. 48. "[T]he provisions of art. 48 are mandatory rather than directory. . . . [W]hen [the people] . . . seek to enact laws by direct popular vote they must do so in strict compliance with those provisions and conditions" (citations omitted). Opinion of the Justices, 422 Mass. 1212, 1219 (1996). See Hurst v. State Ballot Law Comm'n, 427 Mass. 825, 828 (1998) ("The State Constitutional Convention of 1917-1918 sought a balance between competing impulses toward direct versus representative democracy. The proper form and use of petitions is an important aspect of the balance art. 48 represents, and our review must respect that balance").

         3. Discussion.

         The plaintiffs challenge the Attorney General's certification that Initiative Petition 15-17 contains only subjects "which are related or which are mutually dependent." Art. 48, The Initiative, II, § 3, as amended by art. 74.

         a. Related subjects requirement.

         In deciding whether an initiative petition contains subjects "which are related or which are mutually dependent, " we examine whether "the similarities of an initiative's provisions dominate what each segment provides separately so that the petition is sufficiently coherent to be voted on 'yes' or 'no' by the voters[.] That is the crux of the relatedness controversy." Carney v. Attorney Gen., 447 Mass. 218, 226 (2006) (Carney I). The mandate that an initiative petition contain a single "common purpose" arises because a voter, unlike a legislator, "has no opportunity to modify, amend, or negotiate the sections of a law proposed by popular imitative." Id. at 230, 231. A voter cannot "sever the unobjectionable from the objectionable, " and must vote to approve or reject an initiative petition in its entirety. Id. at 230. Accordingly, to avoid "abuse" of the process and confusion among voters, while an initiative petition may contain numerous subjects, it must embody one purpose, and "must express an operational relatedness among its substantive parts that would permit a reasonable voter to affirm or reject the entire petition as a unified statement of public policy." Id. at 230-231.

         The language of art. 48 emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1917-1918, "from which we may discern the conditions under which art. 48 came into existence, and how it appears then to have been received and understood by the convention, and ultimately, by the voters" (citation and quotations omitted). Carney I, 447 Mass. at 226. The requirement of art. 48 that an initiative petition must "contain[] only subjects . . . which are related or which are mutually dependent" was intended to balance the "interests of initiative petitioners and the interests of those who would ultimately vote on the petition." Abdow, 468 Mass. at 499.

         The convention adopted the related subjects requirement in response to two concerns raised by the delegates: the potential for voter confusion and "the dangers of 'log-rolling, '"[5] which had given rise to harms in other States. Dunn v. Attorney Gen., 474 Mass. 675, 679-680 (2016). See Carney I, 447 Mass. at 226- 227. Otherwise put, the relatedness requirements were intended to protect against petitions which include "as alluring a combination of what is popular with what is desired by selfish interests as the proposers of the measures may choose." Carney I, supra at 227, quoting 2 Debates in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention 1917-1918, at 12 (1918) (Constitutional Debates). See Dunn, supra; Hensley v. Attorney General, 474 Mass. 651, 652, 658 (2016); Gray v. Attorney General, 474 Mass. 638, 644-647 (2016); Abdow, 468 Mass. at 498-499.

         The relatedness requirement was imposed in its current form, mandating that initiative petitions contain only subjects that are "related" or "mutually dependent, " after much debate among the delegates about how best to avoid "packaging proposed laws in a way that would confuse the voter, " Carney I, 447 Mass. at 228, or otherwise be "misleading." See Id. at 225, 227-230 & n.2l.[6] "To prevent initiative petitions from being exploited in this manner, the delegates considered potential limitations on their subject matter. . . . One delegate offered an amendment to require that '[n]o proposed law shall contain more than one subject, ' which another delegate proposed modifying to state that a proposed law 'shall not contain unrelated subjects.' . . . This modified amendment was adopted by the convention, and, after some reworking by the committee on form and phraseology, ultimately was approved as the provision in art. 48 ..., requiring the Attorney General to certify that a proposed measure 'contains only subjects . . . which are related or which are mutually dependent.'" Dunn, 474 Mass. at 679-680, citing Carney I, 447 Mass. at 227-228; Constitutional Debates, supra at 12, 537, 567, 701-702.

         We were first called upon to construe the "related subjects requirement" in 1941, in a petition involving education about birth control for married couples. See Opinion of the Justices, 309 Mass. 555, 560-561 (1941). In that case, we determined that the requirement that initiative petitions contain "only subjects . . . which are related or which are mutually dependent" was met because "[t]he particular subjects of the proposed law appear[ed] to be germane to the general subject of prevention of pregnancy or conception, to such an extent, at least, that they [could not] rightly be said to be unrelated." Id. at 561.

         Forty years later, we relied on that test in Massachusetts Teachers Ass'n v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 384 Mass. 209, 221 (1981), quoting Opinion of the Justices, 309 Mass. at 561, in discussing the related subjects requirement of art. 48, The Initiative, II, § 3, as amended by § 74, where we concluded that the requirement that an initiative petition contain "only subjects . . . which are related or which are mutually dependent, " would be satisfied if "one can identify a common purpose to which each subject of an initiative petition can reasonably be said to be germane." Massachusetts Teachers Ass'n, supra at 219-220. We cautioned, however, that while "[i]t is not for the courts to say that logically and consistently other matters might have been included or that particular subjects might have been dealt with differently, " "the general subject of an initiative petition cannot be so broad as to render the 'related subjects'" limitation meaningless. Id., citing Opinion of the Justices, supra. In 1996, in considering whether an initiative petition met the requirement of "relatedness, " defined as whether it violated "the art. 48 requirement that all subjects of an initiative be related or mutually dependent, " the Justices again relied upon the test in Massachusetts Teachers Ass'n, supra, whether "one can identify a common purpose to which each subject of an initiative petition can reasonably be said to be germane." Opinion of the Justices, 422 Mass. at 1220.

         Ten years later, in Carney I, 447 Mass. at 220, 226, 228, we examined the history of the constitutional debates on the "relatedness limitation, " as it was enacted in its final form, requiring that an initiative petition "contain[] only subjects . . . which are related or which are mutually dependent, " and held that "[t]he plain wording of art. 48 and the context in which it was enacted demonstrate that the relatedness limitation is one of many restrictions on the popular initiative process intended to avoid confusion at the polls and to permit citizens to exercise a meaningful choice when voting to accept or reject a proposed law."

         In our subsequent decisions, we have continued to follow what has been known as the "related subjects" requirement or the "relatedness requirement." In Dunn, 474 Mass. at 679-680, we analyzed the "related subjects requirement, " which we defined as the requirement of art. 48 that "a proposed measure 'contain[ ] only subjects . . which are related or which are mutually dependent, " in terms of whether the two distinct provisions in the petition shared a "common purpose" as defined in Carney I, 447 Mass. at 226. In Hensley, we determined that an initiative petition "easily satisfie[d] the related subjects requirement of art. 48" because, first, its provisions met the requirements that their "similarities . . . dominate what each segment provides separately so that the petition is sufficiently coherent to be voted on 'yes' or 'no' by the voters." Hensley, 474 Mass. at 658, quoting Carney I, supra. Second, the multiple provisions in the petition expressed "an operational relatedness among its substantive parts that would permit a reasonable voter to affirm or reject the entire petition as a unified statement of public policy." Hensley, 474 Mass. at 658, quoting Abdow, 468 Mass. at 501. We concluded that the petition met the relatedness requirement of art. 48 because it "[laid] out a detailed plan to legalize marijuana . . . for adult use" and to create a system that would license, regulate, and tax retail sales. Hensley, supra.

         Similarly, in Gray, 474 Mass. at 644-649, in considering the "related subjects requirement, " we determined that the subjects of the petition were not mutually dependent because they could "exist independently, " and then decided the matter relying on the "relatedness limitation" as defined in Carney I, 447 Mass. at 226, and concluded that the subjects had no "common purpose." In Abdow, 468 Mass. at 498-499, we concluded that the "proposed measure" did not violate the "so-called 'relatedness' or 'related subjects' requirement of art. 48, which states that an initiative petition must 'contain[] only subjects . . . which are related or which are mutually dependent." We determined that the petition contained "a significant 'common purpose, '" and its provisions were "not so loosely tied together as to render the related subjects requirement meaningless, and [were] operationally related in a way that would 'permit a reasonable voter to affirm or reject the entire petition as a unified statement of public policy.'" Id. at 501. See Albano v. Attorney General, 437 Mass. 156, 161 (2002) (discussing "the relatedness requirement" as whether "a petition contains only subjects 'which are related or which are mutually dependent'" and deciding that "entire petition" [with several distinctly separate provisions] shared "[a] common purpose" that was not "so broad as to render the 'related subjects' limitation meaningless" [citations omitted]); Mazzone v. Attorney Gen., 432 Mass. 515, 529 (2000) (under subheading "[r]elated or mutually dependent subjects, " discussing and determining that subjects of petition were "related to a single, common purpose" of expanding scope of drug treatment and drug abuse prevention programs).

         As mentioned, in Gray, 474 Mass. at 648, one of the few occasions in which we have concluded that a petition did not meet the related subjects requirement, we did discuss briefly, under the subheading of "[r]elatedness, " whether two subjects were mutually dependent, and concluded that they were not. In a lengthy discussion under the same subheading, we also considered "the core of the related subjects requirement, " that is, whether the "initiative petition's provisions share a 'common purpose, ' . . . put slightly differently but making the same point, ... a 'unified statement of public policy' that the voters can accept or reject as a whole" (footnote omitted). Id. at 645-646, quoting Massachusetts Teachers Ass'n, 384 Mass. at 219-220, and Carney I, 447 Mass. at 231. Since then, other than in quoting the language of art. 48, we have not had cause to address separately whether the subjects of a petition are "mutually independent." See Gray, supra at 644-649.

         As these cases demonstrate, the language "or which are mutually dependent" in the relatedness requirement does not lessen the limitation that an initiative petition under art. 48, The Initiative, II, § 3, as amended by art. 74, must contain a single common purpose and express a unified public policy. Nor does it impose a separate requirement that may be satisfied even if the subjects of a petition are not related. The questions whether "the similarities of an initiative's provisions dominate what each segment provides separately so that the petition is sufficiently coherent to be voted on 'yes' or 'no' by the voters, " and whether two or more provisions in an initiative petition "express an operational relatedness among its substantive parts that would permit a reasonable voter to affirm or reject the entire petition as a unified statement of public policy, " are two sides of the same coin. See Carney I, 447 Mass. at 226, 230-231. See also Dunn, 474 Mass. at 680; Massachusetts Teachers Ass'n, 384 Mass. at 219.

         "A constitutional amendment should be 'interpreted in the light of the conditions under which it . . . [was] framed, the ends which it was designed to accomplish, the benefits which it was expected to confer and the evils which it was hoped to remedy.'" Mazzone, 432 Mass. at 526, quoting Tax Comm'r v. Putnam, 227 Mass. 522, 524 (1917). "'Its words are to be given their natural and obvious sense according to common and approved usage at the time of its adoption, ' although the historical context should not 'control[] the plain meaning of the language.'" Mazzone, supra, quoting General Outdoor Advertising Co. v. Department of Pub. Works, 289 Mass. 149, 158 (1935).

         In its dictionary definition, "mutual" means "directed by each toward the other or others; reciprocal." Black's Law Dictionary 1178 (10th ed. 2014). In common usage, "mutual" is defined as "having the same relation each toward the other" and "of or pertaining to each of two or more; held in common; shared." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary 1270 (2003). A "dependent" is defined as "[s]omeone who relies on another for support; one not able to exist or sustain oneself without the power or aid of someone else, " and "dependence" is defined as "[a] relationship between two . . . things whereby one is sustained by the other or relies on the other for support or necessities." Black's Law Dictionary, supra at 531. In common usage, "dependent" also means "conditioned or determined by something else"; "contingent"; and "not used in isolation; used only in connection with other forms." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, supra at 534.

         While the word "or" is often used as a disjunctive, it also has a number of other meanings. The word "or" may be "used to correct or rephrase what was previously said." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, supra at 1360. It is fundamental to statutory construction that the word "or" is disjunctive "unless the context and the main purpose of all the words demand otherwise."[7] Eastern Mass. St. Ry. v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth., 350 Mass. 340, 343 (1966), citing Commonwealth v. Keenan, 139 Mass. 193, 194 (1885). See, e.g., Miller v. Miller, 448 Mass. 320, 329 (2007) (same); Bleich v. Maimonides Sen., 447 Mass. 38, 46-47 (2006) (same); Nuclear Metals, Inc. v. Low-Level Radioactive Waste Mgt. Bd., 421 Mass. 196, 212 (1995) (same). "Although the disjunctive 'or' may suggest separate meanings for the two terms ..., it does not require mutual exclusivity. The word 'or' commonly introduces a synonym or 'definitional equivalent.'" McCarthan v. Director of Goodwill Indus. Suncoast, Inc., 851 F.3d 1076, 1087 (2017), quoting A. Scalia & B.A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 122 (2012). See 1A N.J. Singer & J.D. Shambie Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction § 21.14 (7th ed. 2009). See also United States v. Harris, 838 F.3d 98, 105 (2d Cir. 2016), cert, denied, 137 S.Ct. 840, (2017), quoting Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330, 339 (1979) ("In any event, even when striving to ensure separate meanings, the disjunctive canon does not apply absolutely, particularly where 'the context dictates otherwise'").

         In other words, while operationally related subjects need not be mutually dependent, "we need not pause to consider whether any subjects which are mutually dependent could ever be said not also to be related." Massachusetts Teachers Ass'n, 384 Mass. at 218 n.8. As discussed, the provision the delegates referred to as the "unrelated matters" provision, Constitutional Debates, supra at 960, was approved by the delegates, under that designation, when it comprised the phrase "shall not contain unrelated subjects." Id. at 856. The provision was adopted after much debate by the delegates on how to prevent particular misuses of the initiative process, and whether initiative petitions should be limited to a single subject. Id. at 12, 537, 567, 701-702. The words "or which are mutually dependent" were added at the last moment, when the "related subjects" language was "referred back" to the committee on form and phraseology. Constitutional Debates at 953. The committee "on its own initiative, moved the relatedness limitation from its 'isolated' position and incorporated it into the section of the final draft initiative amendment concerning the Attorney General's certification duties" that the committee reported back to the delegates. See Carney I, 447 Mass. at 228, citing Constitutional Debates, supra at 1051. These changes were described by the delegates themselves as "unimportant" and as not affecting the meaning of the provision. Constitutional Debates, supra at 773, 911, 959-960. The delegates then adopted the final language without further debate. Id. at 1050-1051. Thus, the words "or which are mutually dependent" were added as a means of assisting, first, the Attorney General and, thereafter, the court, in language that was then well understood, to examine a petition to determine if its core purpose "dominate[s] what each segment provides separately so that the petition is sufficiently coherent to be voted on 'yes' or 'no' by the voters." Carney I, supra at 226. See Ashley v. Three Justices of the Superior Court, 228 Mass. 63, 81 (1917); County of Berkshire v. Cande, 222 Mass. 87, 90-91 (1915); Edwards v. Bruorton, 184 Mass. 529, 530-531 (1904); Nolan's Case, 122 Mass. 330, 332-333 (1877); Warren v. Mayor & Aldermen of Charlestown, 2 Gray 84, 99 (1854).

         To construe the phrase "or which are mutually dependent" as eliminating the requirement of relatedness would be to vitiate the purpose of protecting the voters from misuse of the petitioning process for which it was enacted. "An amendment to the Constitution is one of the most solemn and important of instruments. . . . Its words should be interpreted in 'a sense most obvious to the common understanding at the time of its adoption, ' because it is proposed for public adoption and must be understood by all entitled to vote." Carney I, 447 Mass. at 224, quoting Opinion of the Justices, 324 Mass. 746, 749 (1949). "We reject any restrictive reading of art. 48, as amended, that results in a failure to give effect to the purpose for which its words were chosen." Carney I, supra at 225, quoting Hurst v. State Ballot Law Comm'n, 427 Mass. 825, 828 (1998). This is no doubt why, since its introduction, our ...


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