What is… the Judicial Council?
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What is… the Judicial Council?

September 12, 2019

This is a quick overview
of the Judicial Council and how it serves The
United Methodist Church. There are three main
bodies that govern The United Methodist Church:
The General Conference, The Council of Bishops,
and the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council
determines the constitutionality and legality of acts or
proposed acts of the General, jurisdictional, central
and annual conferences based on the church’s
constitution and other parts of The Book of Discipline.
The Judicial Council is made up of nine members
who are elected during regular sessions of
General Conference. All of the Judicial Council
members and alternates serve on a volunteer basis and are
active in their local churches and other parts of the
connection. Members sometimes have a legal background and
several active and retired judges have served. The Council
more and more reflects the diversity of the global church.
The 2017-2020 Council has the first president from
a central conference. Four clergy and four laity
always serve on the Judicial Council, with the
ninth seat alternating between clergy and laity. A member’s
term lasts 8 years and they can serve two successive
terms. However, a member who has served 16 years
must sit out for at least four years before standing
for another election. Each General Conference elects
the number of members whose terms expire at that
session. The Council of Bishops submits nominees;
General Conference delegates can make additional nominations. The Judicial Council meets for
a spring and a fall session each year. Their docket —
the items to be ruled on -regularly includes reviews
of all decisions of law made by bishops, matters which have
been appealed to them and requests for
declaratory decisions. Although there are sometimes
open hearings before the Judicial Council, deliberations
of the council are closed. The Judicial Council sets
its own rules and procedures and elects its own president,
vice-president and secretary. Appropriate bodies can
submit a petition for a declaratory decision to
the Judicial Council. At issue is the meaning,
constitutionality or legality of some legislation or action
of the General Conference or some other body.
These requests are reviewed, and a docket is created for each
session. The docket may also include reviews of decisions
of central conference or jurisdictional committees
on appeals. The docket is then posted on the
Judicial Council’s website. After a ruling is made on
questions of Church law, appropriate parties are
notified and the decision is published online. An
affirmative vote of at least 6 members shall be necessary
to declare any act of the General Conference
unconstitutional. When the Judicial Council
declares any provision unconstitutional, the Book
of Discipline is revised. All decisions
are final. However, the Judicial Council can
accept requests to reconsider a prior decision. To learn more, check out
Chapter 7, part 6 of The Book of Discipline or
visit ResourceUMC.org.

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