Close the Back Door

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"Close the Back Door" was a successful initiative organized by Caryn Ann Harlos with a goal of amending the National Party Bylaws to add an additional self-protection clause (force-field) to Article 17 of the National Bylaws at the 2018 National Convention to ensure that the original intent was preserved and honored.

History of Issue

At the 1972 National Convention, the Party founders decided that the future of the Party would be guided by a Statement of Principles with a near impossible 7/8 super-majority and super-quorum for amendment. In order to ensure this procedure, they protected the bylaws specifying this standard with an additional 7/8 super-quorum and super-majority amendment requirement, believing that this completely accomplished their intent. However at the 2008 National Convention, The Bylaws Committee put forth an argument that the founders left a back door open that would allow the Statement of Principles to be amended with a 2/3 vote by a series of steps. The following is excerpted from its report:

Problems: The drafters of the early Bylaws left a backdoor, either deliberately or accidently, allowing the Statement of Principles to be amended by a series of 2/3 votes. The Statement of Principles contains some awkward and embarrassing language that nearly all Libertarians would like to see eliminated. The straightforward approach to amending the Statement of Principles requires the affirmative vote of 7/8 of the registered delegates which is impossible to achieve because 7/8 of the registered delegates are never on the convention floor at the same time.

Solution: In a single step (to preclude any risk of the process being hijacked midway through), open the backdoor, make the most critical and least controversial amendments to the Statement of Principles, then close and forever padlock the backdoor.

*- Makes the Statement of Principles something all Libertarians can be proud of.
*- Protects the Statement of Principles against future revision by fewer than 7/8 of the delegates voting.

To Suspend the Rules for the purpose of voting once en banc on the adoption of the following four motions together, without secondary motions or incidental main motions, to take effect in the listed sequence, with debate limited to a total of fifteen minutes for all questions. (2/3 vote needed per RONR pp. 184-85, 252-53)

Motion 1:
Amend Bylaw Article 14, Section 2 as follows:

2018 Bylaws-Motion-1.png

Motion 2:
Amend Bylaw Article 4, Section 1 as follows:

2018 Bylaws-Motion-2.png

Motion 3:
Amend the Statement of Principles as follows:

2018 Bylaws-Motion-3-1.png

2018 Bylaws-Motion-3-2.png

Motion 4:
Amend Bylaw Article 4, Section 1 as follows:

2018 Bylaws-Motion-4-1.png

and Bylaw Article 14, Section 2 as follows:

2018 Bylaws-Motion-4-2.png

The chair fielded a challenge from Dean Ahmad to the matter – the proposal on the Statement of Principles – being in order. The Chair ruled the matter in order. Dean Ahmad appealed the ruling. A motion to table was ruled out of order. The discussion centered on the language requiring the 7/8 requirement which was about to be amended with a 2/3 majority. After the question was called and the matter put to a vote, the chair’s ruling was overturned, and the Statement of Principles item stood out of order. This was confirmed with a standing vote.[1] Daniel Lewis moved to suspend the rules to consider the question of the ‘padlock’ proposal, motion #4 of the Statement of Principles item. An intervening motion to suspend the rules was ruled out of order. The motion failed.

Implications for Dallas Accord

Interestingly (and in the opinion of some, deceptively), the Bylaws report did not mention that the changes proposed that would have created a Statement of Principles that allegedly all Libertarians could be proud of would have excised a significant portion of the changes made in conjunction with the Dallas Accord once again marginalizing (or at least might be perceived to be marginizing) Party anarchists. It is the opinion of some that the Bylaws Committee suffered from overreach and if it had simply stuck to striking the "cult of the omnipotent state" language it would have succeeded. During arguments for the the 2018 revisions, Harlos argued that she would have accepted that as a compromise in order to close the back door if she were present at that convention.

Front of Flyer

2018 Close-the-Back-Door Flyer-Front.jpg

Additional Flyer


Supporters of this effort have been successful in getting this proposal passed to be decided by this convention:

2018 Close-the-Back-Door-Proposal.png
However, it is Proposal Q which makes it highly unlikely there will be time to hear this item. How can make sure this is heard?

The Bylaws report is split between two sessions on Sunday. Right after lunch, someone may move to suspend the rules in order to request that this item be moved up on the schedule and heard immediately. If this happens, we urge you to support this.

If this Proposal is heard, you can expect that someone will attempt to lower the threshold so here are some key things to understand:

* The current threshold is not merely a 7/8 vote, it is a 7/8 of all registered delegates. So if another high number like 5/6 is bandied about you will note that it will not include that key phrase of “registered delegates” and thus is a much larger change than it at first appears.

* If a lower threshold is proposed it will be immediately appealed as Out of Order to the Chair. Why? Because it is obvious and inarguable that the intent of Article 17.2 of the Bylaws was to also require a 7/8 vote of registered delegates for its amendment. This is where disputes over Robert’s Rules of Order (RONR) will come into play. The opposition will cite RONR as stating that intent should not be considered when interpreting an ambiguous Bylaw (which to us seems absolutely ridiculous as nothing else in life operates that way); however, there are three key weaknesses to that argument in addition to the blatant disregard of what was intended and under which understanding thousands of us joined this Party and gave millions of dollars. The first is that RONR also says that an assembly has the right to interpret its own Bylaws, and it cannot tell you what you use in your own judgment and common sense. Secondly, it is apparent that RONR is implicitly referring to what is called “parol evidence”, i.e., evidence from outside the document itself. But that is not necessary, if one reads the answer is right there. In Bylaw 3.1: The Statement of Principles affirms that philosophy upon which the Libertarian Party is founded, by which it shall be sustained, and through which liberty shall prevail. The enduring importance of the Statement of Principles requires that it may be amended only by a vote of 7/8 of all registered delegates at a Regular Convention. That Bylaw would make no sense if there were another way, other than the 7/8, to amend the Statement of Principles. And when there are competing interpretations, the one that does not render another related section absurd is the correct one.

* Be prepared to be at a microphone to argue the case for protecting our principles with conviction and passion.

You may be wondering, isn’t this just a panic about something that is not ever going to happen? Well, in fact, it has been attempted. In 2008, the Bylaws Committee attempted to exploit this back door in order to change the Statement of Principles, including a key part of the Dallas Accord language.


Flyer from convention

Debates and Vote

Motion passed by standing vote.

  1. The basis for the Ahmad challenge was that this action was clearly in violation of the intent of the bylaw and that a bylaw creating an amendment threshold should not be able to be amended except by the higher of the relevant thresholds. However, RONR states that intent cannot be used a factor in resolving challenges to unambiguous bylaws (but that is of course begging the question in this case), but even so, the body is the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of its Bylaws, and in overturning the ruling of the Chair, the body made its mind known.