AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee voted 8-2 Thursday to reject a bill that attempted to codify the state and U.S. constitutions as the law of the land.
The legislation, LD 330, sponsored by state Rep. Michael McClellan, R-Raymond, was modeled after a law passed in Tennessee aimed at preventing the use of Muslim Sharia law in state courts there.
Testimony supporting the bill suggested immigrant Muslim women and their children were sometimes subjected to harsh and illegal treatment by husbands or ex-husbands.
As defendants in Maine courts, these men might suggest the laws of their religion or homeland should be applied to their cases, supporters of the legislation suggested.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, wrote in a memo to the Judiciary Committee stating that she opposed the measure, as did her Republican predecessor, William Schneider when a similar bill was offered during the 125th Legislature.
“The U.S. Constitution is supreme and this proposal is confusing and unnecessary,” Mills’ office wrote in a memo to the committee.
Bills similar to McClellan’s have been offered and rejected in previous lawmaking sessions. An analyst for the committee said about 20 other states had adopted some form of the legislation.
McClellan said he sponsored the bill because he was asked to by a constituent.
Committee members Thursday said that while some may have attempted to inject foreign or religious law into Maine court proceedings, there was no evidence any Maine judge had ever gone along with allowing foreign law to trump rights and protections in the U.S. Constitution.
The measure looked to address the legal concept of comity, which allows a judge to apply some aspects of laws from other lands if they are generally in line with state and federal laws and do not violate an individual’s constitutional rights, including but not limited to the rights of due process and equal protection.
“Have we had presented to us any cases in which any form of international law was applied in court and in fact violated someone’s constitutional rights and it was not for that reason overturned, on appeal?” Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville, asked.
Other lawmakers on the panel said they understood the seriousness of the concern but they believed that concern was being driven by fear.
“I think all of us would have a concern that somebody was here fleeing persecution and was going to become the subject of the laws from which they fled while they are living here in this country while they are under the protection of our Constitution,” said Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting said. “But that being said, I don’t see the examples of where that has happened.”
State Rep. Jeff Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, said many who testified in favor of the bill said they would provide examples of cases in Maine and the U.S. but never did.
“They were expressing fears about Sharia law, Islamic law and I guess they weren’t able to produce any documented cases,” Evangelos said. “I think that our separation of church and state is solid and I think that it will remain.”
The bill next moves to the Maine House of Representatives for consideration.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported Rep. Jeff Evangelos is an independent from Freedom. He is from Friendship.