The Capital attacked Senator Reilly for introducing into the Maryland General Assembly what is widely known as a “message bill,” a bill that won’t pass assuming that the bill’s contents accurately reflects its stated purpose (The Capital, Feb. 3) My guess is that General Assembly legislators introduce hundreds of such bills per session.
I divide message bills into four categories: 1) bills where the legislators genuinely support the message (e.g., Reilly’s), 2) bills that signal virtue and wouldn’t be introduced if their proponents thought they would pass (e.g., some open-government bills), 3) bills designed to embarrass the majority party and wouldn’t be introduced by the minority if it were the majority (e.g., legislative redistricting bills), and 4) bills whose message is to do one thing (e.g., protect consumers) while in fact doing the opposite (e.g., protect producers).
Reilly’s bill fits in the first category, arguably the best category. The Capital’s editorial was remiss in not acknowledging that message bills are and have always been prolifically introduced by legislators. Furthermore, by basing its argument on a premise it doesn’t apply impartially, it signaled an unstated agenda, presumably that it is unwilling to publish controversial editorials that might offend a material subset of its subscribers.
Hiding behind a popular but arbitrarily applied principle is akin to the common practice in authoritarian countries of imprisoning opponents, such as Vladimir Putin’s leading opponent, Alexei Navalny, on corruption charges. A principle of justice selectively applied is unjust.
Source: Snider, J.H., Reilly’s Message Bill, Capital, February 7, 2021. Responding to: Editorial, Our Say: Ed Reilly is just messing with your head, Capital, February 3, 2021.