The Maryland Constitution and the Full Power of the General Assembly to Legislate


In 1776, the framers of the Constitution of Maryland, in setting forth provisions pertaining to the Legislative Branch of the State government, did not inscribe a list of specific powers granted to the General Assembly with respect to its exercise of the legislative prerogative.  While there are provisions in the Constitution, and, in particular, the Declaration of Rights, that restrict or prohibit the legislature from passing certain kinds of laws, the 1776 State Constitution, and every one adopted or amended since then, in their silence on what kinds of laws can be passed, has granted the General Assembly full or plenary powers to legislate.  This significant grant of power is in relatively stark contrast to the provisions of the United States Constitution with respect to the federal Congress.  Article I, Section 8 of the federal constitution sets out close to 20 specific powers that may be exercised by legislative action undertaken by the Congress.  No such list, which is more akin to a list of limitations on Congressional power, exists in the Maryland Constitution for the General Assembly.


However, there are few provisions in the Constitution that specifically empower the General Assembly to legislate in certain areas, such as the regulation of elections, providing fines and prison terms for the bribery of public officers, the setting of a legal rate of interest above six percent a year, and authorizing counties and municipal corporations, by local law, to carry out urban renewal projects.


Interestingly, there is an obscure but still valid provision that grants the General Assembly the power to suspend a sentence handed down by a criminal court, for any form of indeterminate sentences in criminal cases, and for the release on parole of convicts imprisoned under a sentence that had been imposed on them.