High court hears 'personhood' arguments

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The “personhood” amendment should not be allowed on the ballot because the people voted to limit their power to amend the Bill of Rights to the state Constitution, Jackson attorney Rob McDuff told the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The nine-member court heard oral arguments Monday on whether it should block from the November general election ballot the amendment supported by groups opposed to abortion rights.
McDuff, arguing for a group of Mississippi citizens, said the section of the state Constitution giving citizens the right to place issues on the ballot through the initiative process prevents the Bill of Rights from being changed through that process.
The personhood initiative, sponsored by Les Riley of Pontotoc, states that it is amending Article III of the state Constitution (the Bill of Rights) “to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
Steve Crampton of Tupelo, who is with the Virginia-based Liberty Council, argued that the personhood amendment should not be excluded from the ballot because it is not adding or removing a new right but only further defining that right.
Plus, he said, the issue “in a nutshell is whether the people of this great state have the right to amend their Constitution.”
Attorneys on both sides were peppered with questions – primarily from Justices Jess Dickinson and Michael Randolph. They particularly wanted McDuff to explain what they saw as a conflict because a separate, older section of the Constitution said the people have the right to change it and did not exclude making changes to the Bill of Rights.
McDuff said in 1992 Mississippians voted to set limits on their ability to amend the Bill of Rights. He said the Bill of Rights could only be amended by the Legislature voting by a two-thirds majority to make the change and then the people of the state approving that legislative action at the ballot box.
Before 1992, there was no way to amend the Constitution through the initiative process. Voters approved an initiative process in 1914, but it was struck down by the Supreme Court in two separate opinions in the 1920s.
Chief Justice William Waller Jr. said at the end of the hearing “a decision will be rendered in due course.”
A lower court already has rejected attempts to block the initiative from the ballot.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.