The CNMI Supreme Court has ruled that a municipality does not have the authority to pass a law allowing gambling.
In the high court's opinion released to the media yesterday, the justices answered in the negative to a certified question whether a local law, enacted to Article II, Section 6 of the CNMI Constitution by a senatorial district of the legislature, is a Commonwealth law under Article XXI of the NMI Constitution.
A local law cannot set aside the ban on gambling found in the CNMI Constitution, said the Supreme Court's opinion issued on Tuesday by associate justice John A. Manglona, and justices pro tem Perry B. Inos and Herbert D. Soll.
The justices explained that under the CNMI Constitution, the gambling prohibition may be set aside either through the initiative process or by the Commonwealth Legislature's passage of a law allowing a particular gambling activity.
Reps. Joseph M. Palacios (R-Saipan) and Ray N. Yumul (R-Saipan) filed last January before the CNMI Supreme Court the certified question whether or not a local law enacted by the Saipan Northern Island Legislative Delegation is considered a Commonwealth law.
Palacios and Yumul brought the certified question after Superior Court associate judge David A. Wiseman last Jan. 19 dismissed for lack of standing Palacios' lawsuit against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial over the governor's veto of the controversial Saipan casino bill.
In their stipulated statements of facts, the two lawmakers said they are following Wiseman's directive and seek redress to the certified question posed by this petition.
Palacios, as chairman of SNILD's Committee on Judicial and Governmental Operations, recommended passage of House Local Bill 17-44 that seeks to legalize casino gaming by exempting Saipan from the Commonwealth-wide prohibition on gambling.
SNILD passed the bill by a majority vote on Aug. 26, 2011.
Yumul voted against the passage of the bill, stating that a local law enacted by SNILD is not a Commonwealth law as required in Article 21 of the NMI Constitution.
Fitial subsequently vetoed the bill.
In the high court's decision, the justices said whether a local law is a Commonwealth law under Article XXI is a matter of constitutional interpretation.
The justices said when interpreting a constitutional provision, the court may also rely upon committee recommendations, constitutional transcripts, and other relevant constitutional history.
The justices said the text of Article XXI, when viewed through the lens of this court's principles of constitutional interpretation, indicates that the term “Commonwealth law,” found in the first disjunctive clause, does not include all categories of law in the CNMI.
The justices said the legislative history of Article XXI thus indicates that the phrase “Commonwealth law” in Article XXI does not include local laws enacted pursuant to Section 6.
The justices said the Analysis of the CNMI Constitution establishes that “Commonwealth law” includes local laws only for the purpose of determining a conflict between laws enacted by the Commonwealth Legislature and laws enacted by a municipal council.
The Analysis, the justices said, does not purport to define “Commonwealth law” for all purposes, nor does it elucidate the meaning of the term “Commonwealth law” in Article XXI.
“Therefore, the Analysis does not assist us in answering this certified question,” they said.