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Constitutional requirements for initiative petitions

The Attorney General’s Office reviews all petitions to determine if they meet constitutional requirements, including whether a petition addresses subjects excluded from the petition process.

Constitutional requirements

Amendment Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution requires that the Attorney General’s Office certify an initiative measure if the following requirements are met:

  • The measure and its title are in proper form for submission to the voters.
  • The measure is not substantially the same as any measure submitted in the last two statewide general elections held in even-numbered years.
  • The measure only contains subjects that are related or mutually dependent and that are not excluded from the initiative process by Amendment Article 48 to the Massachusetts Constitution.

"Excluded Matters"

Amendment Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution excludes certain topics from initiative petitions. Petitions relating to these topics cannot be certified.

A petition is excluded from the initiative petition process if it:

  • Relates to religion, religious practices or religious institutions;
  • Relates to the appointment, qualification, tenure, removal, recall or compensation of judges, or the reversal of a judicial decision, or the powers, creation, or abolition of courts;
  • Is restricted in its operation to a particular town, city, or other political division or to particular districts or localities;
  • Makes a specific appropriation of money from the state’s treasury;
  • Relates to Amendment Article 18 of the Massachusetts Constitution (religious freedom; the “anti-aid” amendment) or that portion of Amendment Article 48 that specifically excludes matters from the operation of the initiative and referendum process; or
  • Is inconsistent with any of the following state constitutional rights:
    • The right to receive compensation for private property appropriated to public use;
    • The right of access to and protection in courts of justice;
    • The right of trial by jury;
    • Protection from unreasonable search, unreasonable bail, and the law martial;
    • Freedom of the press;
    • Freedom of speech;
    • Freedom of elections; and
    • The right of peaceable assembly

The Attorney General’s Office may not refuse to certify a petition that conflicts with a constitutional guarantee not mentioned in Amendment Article 48, such as due process or equal protection. Petitions that appear on a ballot and are approved by voters could later be challenged in court and invalidated on those grounds.

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