In response to a request from the Overtures Committee, the moderator of 41st General Assembly has ruled Overture 19, “Request for Rehearing of SJC Case 2012-05”, and Overture 23, “Direct the Standing Judicial Commission to Find SJC 2012-09 Administratively in Order and to Hear the Case” as out of order.
For both overtures, Committee offered the following grounds:
1) Both Overtures 19 and 23 assert:
BCO 15-5.a permits the General Assembly to “direct the Standing Judicial Commission to retry a case if upon review of its minutes exceptions are taken with respect to that case.” (The last Whereas clause in both Overtures, pp. 80 & 94.)
But BCO 15.5.a only applies to CCB review of SJC minutes. (And even then, per RAO 17-1, the CCB is to review the “minutes, but not the judicial cases, decisions, or reports,” of the SJC.) Regardless of how one understands CCB’s authority, no review authority is given to Presbyteries and they are not constitutionally permitted, in any way, to try to reopen SJC cases.
2) For the last 16 years, since the revisions to BCO 15 and RAO 17 made by the 25th GA in Colorado Springs in 1997, SJC decisions have been final when they are announced to the parties, and they cannot be reopened – certainly not via overture.
BCO 15-5.a: “… The decision of the SJC shall be the final decision of the GA except as set forth below, to which there may be no complaint or appeal. …”
The phrase “except as set forth below” refers only to an SJC minority report from at least 1/3 of the SJC proposing a different decision. (BCO 15.5.c and OMSJC 17.2 and 19.4)
BCO 15-5.c. (1) If, within twenty-four (24) hours of the time of adjournment of a SJC meeting at which a final decision was rendered in a case, at least one-third (1/3) of the voting members of the SJC file written notice of their intention to file a minority decision with the Stated Clerk of the GA, and within twenty (20) days from the adjournment do file such a minority decision, such minority decision shall be considered a minority report and shall be referred, with the report of the SJC, to the GA.
OMSJC 17.2 A judgment of the SJC shall be effective from the time of its announcement to the parties in accordance with BCO 15-5(b) except in the case of a minority report in accordance with BCO 15-5(c).
These revisions were first approved in 1996 by a 98% majority of the 24th GA in Ft. Lauderdale and subsequently ratified by 90% of the Presbyteries. (Prior to these changes, all SJC decisions were voted up or down by the GA without debate.)
3) BCO 15-5.c stipulates that if there is an SJC minority report, the GA shall act upon the SJC and the minority reports “without question, discussion, debate, or amendment.” If an SJC minority report must be considered without question, discussion, debate or amendment, then how could it be proper for the GA to debate the merits of an SJC decision via overture?
4) Unlike SJC members, no member of the OC or GA is required (a) to read the Record of the Case or (b) to read the briefs filed by the parties, or (c) to listen to the oral arguments presented at the hearing. (In one of these cases, the Record and briefs totaled over 740 pages.) None of the 1,200-plus Commissioners at this GA is required to read the lengthy Records of the Missouri or the Pacific NW cases, yet these overtures ask the GA Commissioners to render an opinion on the SJC’s decisions in each case.
5. If it were allowable to reopen an SJC decision via overture, then any Presbytery losing a case at the SJC level could simply file an overture asking the GA to remand their case for a rehearing. And even if their overture were answered in the Negative, they could still publicly debate the SJC decision at the Assembly via the overture. In addition, if this is allowed, then any SJC member who dissents in a case could go home and ask his Presbytery to file an overture asking GA to remand the case to the SJC for rehearing.
6. Illiana Overture 19 ends by including three pages of what it calls “selective citations taken from the transcript of his trial in Pacific Northwest Presbytery.” But the trial transcript is 406 pages long. Such “selective” citations are unfair to any minister who submitted to an 18-hour trial, took the stand, answered questions, and was acquitted by his Presbytery (an acquittal which the SJC upheld by an 88% majority).
7. If the PCA allows an SJC decision to be reopened, discussed and debated, and then remanded or reversed via overture, then no SJC decision will be final until after each GA. For example, an SJC decision rendered at the SJC’s October meeting would not be final until 8 months later after the next GA considers any overtures filed against it.