Limits on the Legislative Powers of the General Assembly by the Declaration of Rights


Despite the broad grant of legislative authority the first Maryland Constitution gave to the General Assembly (and retained by subsequent State constitutions), those powers were not unfettered, particularly because the founders of the State sought to grant to and preserve for the inhabitants of the new State a number of the privileges and rights that had been extended to the subjects of the English crown well before the establishment of Maryland as a state.


Establishing a Declaration of Rights to be included as part of  the Maryland Constitution of 1776, its creators set forth a number of freedoms, privileges, and protections many of which  appeared over a decade later  in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.  Under the Declaration of Rights, the General Assembly, by clear inference, is prohibited from passing legislation that would deny the right to trial by jury, the right to vote, or the right to petition the legislature for redress of grievances.  Likewise, the legislature cannot levy taxes that are “grievous and oppressive” or pass laws that “inflict cruel and unusual pains and penalties”, that are ex post facto in nature (that is, laws that punish criminal acts before the existence of a law that made such an act a crime), or that are bills of attainder (that is, acts that single out an individual or group for punishment without a trial).  Other restrictions on the General Assembly include passing laws that would:  deny the right to a speedy trial, the right to be informed of criminal charges against an accused, the right to counsel, and the right to a unanimous verdict of a jury in a criminal case; compel an individual to give evidence against himself or herself in a criminal case; deprive anyone of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; require an individual to post excessive bail; deny freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion; grant titles of nobility; or deny equality of rights under the law. 


Finally, the Declaration of Rights, through a provision requiring the powers of the three branches of the State government – the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial branches – to  remain forever separate in their functions, prohibits the General Assembly from passing laws that would impose a power or duty on an officer, official, or unit in  one branch of the State government that would duplicate, replace, or conflict with the power of an officer, official, or unit of another branch of the government.