Five Worst Decisions, Part V

This is it, the worst decision in the history of the Connecticut Supreme Court. And the winner is . . . State ex rel. Morris v. Bulkeley, 61 Conn. 287 (1892). The decision is so awful that it actually makes Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), look good.

The State Register and Manual, the official Information Please of Connecticut, says that Morgan Bulkeley was the Republican Governor from 1889-1893. At that time the term of office was two years. He was elected in 1888 and did not run for reelection in 1890. So how could he have been the Governor until 1893? Read on.

The 1890 election was a close call. The Constitution said that the Legislature was to make the call on the second day of its next session. So in January 1891 the Democratic Senate called it for the Democrat and the Republican House called it for the Republican. Partisan feuding went on for months. Meanwhile, Bulkeley was not about to leave office until somebody was picked to replace him. The Democratic Senate retaliated by refusing to appropriate any funds to operate the government. Bulkeley, who simultaneously was the President of Aetna Insurance Company, responded by turning the state into a ward of his insurance company. The company proceeded to fund the state budget.

Eventually the Democrats got the bright idea to file a lawsuit. So in October 1891, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Luzon Morris, filed a quo warranto action against Bulkeley. Morris alleged that he was the rightful holder of the office. The case was quickly reserved to the Supreme Court, which heard oral argument over two days in late November.

As the justices cogitated throughout December without making a decision, Bulkeley continued to govern. The Supreme Court issued its momentous decision on January 5, 1892: the demurrer to the writ must be sustained, i.e., Morris’s claim must fail. Why? Because there was a pleading defect!

If I were to paraphrase the Court’s reasoning, you would not believe me, so I will quote it:

“The information [the complaint] does not allege that the relator [Morris] had the majority of all the votes, but only the majority as it appears by the returns of the presiding officers, while other parts of the information show that such apparent majority is in dispute. Nor does the information contain any allegation that the general assembly had become unable to decide upon the relator’s right to the office he claims.

If the relator shall hereafter, by an amendment of the present information, or by a new one, allege that he received a majority of all the votes lawfully cast for governor on the 4th day of November, 1890, and it shall also appear from the facts therein stated that the general assembly is without the power to make any declaration in respect to the election for governor, a case would be presented of which the superior court might take jurisdiction.

The superior court is advised that the information is insufficient, and to sustain the demurrer.”

61 Conn. at 376, which was 89 pages after the report of the decision began.

So, Mr. Morris, go back to square one, clean up your writ, and then maybe the Superior Court can take a look at it, but only if you also allege that the Legislature “has become unable to decide” who was elected. After all, only a year has gone by. Maybe the Legislature will turn over a new leaf now that a new year has begun. It is true that it may be too late constitutionally for the Legislature to act. But you didn’t allege that, Mr. Morris.

Of course nothing happened. So Bulkeley and the Aetna Insurance Company ran the state for another year until Morris decisively won in November 1892 and took office in January 1893.

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