Budget & Tax , Law & Principles

Trent England | November 24, 2014

Raising means lowering? (or why people hate lawyers)

Trent England

Will the Oklahoma Supreme Court rule that “raising” means “lowering”? That is one possible outcome in a case currently before the Court. In fact, Justice Noma Gurich seems to believe exactly that according to this report.

The case seeks to throw out a tax cut passed by the legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year. If the Court rules against that cut, a number of other tax reforms adopted over the last decade could be invalidated as well. But only if the Court decides that two terms most people consider opposites actually mean, at least when it comes to taxes, the same thing.

The debate goes back to 1992, when Oklahoma voters changed the State Constitution by voting to approve State Question 640. The amendment applies to “all bills for raising revenue,” and was designed to make it harder to raise existing taxes or create new ones. During the heated debate leading up to the election, everyone on both sides understood that the measure was about tax increases.

How could anyone now claim SQ 640 restricts the legislature’s power to lower taxes? And why would anyone take such a claim seriously? Ah, yes … lawyers.

Like philosophers and poets, lawyers study and contemplate the meanings of words. That knowledge, of course, is a tool; it exists for a purpose, but can also be abused. The rightful purpose is clarity in legal documents and rules, from contracts and wills to legislation and court decisions.

Lawyers who manipulate words to avoid common sense abuse not merely power but learning as well. Should the Oklahoma Supreme Court decide “raising” means “lowering,” they will earn the ire of most Oklahomans. And rightly so.

Trent England David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England

David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.

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