Constitution of Alabama


Constitution of Alabama

The Constitution of the State of Alabama is the basic governing document of the U.S. state of Alabama. It was adopted in 1901 and is the sixth constitution that the state has had.

At 340,136 words, the document is 12 times longer than the average state constitution, 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution, and is the longest still-operative constitution anywhere in the world. (The English translation of the Constitution of India, the longest national constitution, is about 117,369 words long, a third of the length.)

About 90 percent of the document's length, as of 2011, comes from its 827 amendments. About 70 percent of the amendments cover only a single county or city, and some deal with salaries of specific officials (e.g. Amendment 480 and the Greene County probate judge). This gives Alabama a large number of constitutional officers.

The Preamble runs:

We the people of the State of Alabama, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution.

Contents

History

Alabama has had 6 constitutions to date: 1819 (Converting Alabama Territory into a State), 1861 (Secession), 1865 (Reconstruction), 1868 (Redemption), 1875, and the current 1901 constitution. [1]

General overview

The Alabama Constitution, in common with all State constitutions, defines the standard tripartite government. Executive power is vested in the Governor of Alabama, legislative power in the Alabama State Legislature (bicameral, composed of the Alabama House of Representatives and Alabama Senate), and judicial in the Judiciary of Alabama. Direct, partisan, secret, free elections are provided for filling all branches.

Notable features

The extreme length of the current constitution is both because of and the cause of heavy centralization of power in the state government, leaving very little authority to local units. Counties cannot even legislate on local issues, requiring the state legislature, and ipso facto uninvolved parts of the state, to pass local laws.

The constitution addresses many issues that are dealt with by statute in most other states. The most notable issue is taxation. Unlike most other states, a large portion of Alabama's tax code is written into the constitution. Besides prohibiting local governments from passing any ordinances on tax issues, this necessitates its amendment over minor taxation issues. Adding to the problem is the requirement that a proposed amendment of any sort must be unanimously approved by the legislature; otherwise it must be submitted for a statewide vote. This has resulted in local county or municipality related amendments being overwhelmingly approved in the affected area, but rejected statewide. [2]

Size and local relevance

The document has been amended for diverse topics such as:

The Legislature has also been forced to amend amendments that often concerned similarly trivial matters (See other sections for more examples):

The paper has also been falsely amended at least once (Amendment 587). This may be the reason why it has no Amendment 621, skipping from 620 to 622. There is also a strange additional amendment, Amendment 26A. The reason for this unusual nomenclature is unknown.

Discrimination

The document has been heavily criticized for discriminatory elements, many of which have been made moot by amendments to the federal constitution or United States Supreme Court decisions.

The President of the Constitutional Convention stated in his inaugural address that their intention was "within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State." (Day 2 of 54) Section 181 required the use of literacy tests to enroll voters, while Section 180 grandfathered in anyone who served in the military, or descended from them; these have since been outlawed by the Voting Rights Act. Section 194 requires the payment of 1.50 USD poll tax (Worth approximately 37.74 USD by CPI[1]).

Originally it outlawed interracial marriage (Section 102), but this provision was rendered inoperative by Loving v. Virginia. It was finally removed in 2000 by Amendment 667. The constitution still requires racially segregated education in the state (Section 256). Although this provision has not been enforced since the 1960s, the continued existence of these provisions is seen by many as an embarrassment to the state. A proposal to strike the segregation requirement was defeated narrowly in 2004 (MSNBC). Nearly all organizations opposing the repeal of the segregation measure pointed to a provision stating that the state did not provide a right to a state financed education. Groups opposing the repeal of this amendment claimed that repeal would lead to court decisions requiring the state to raise taxes.

Section 177 denied women the right to vote by confining voting rights to "male citizens," but this was rendered unenforceable by the 19th Amendment until Amendment 579 was substituted, which contained no reference to gender.

Section 182 disenfranchized all "idiots and insane persons" (New Jersey recently removed a similarly offensively worded phrase from its constitution), men who interracially married and those convicted of "crime against nature" (homosexuality).

Outdated provisions

The constitution includes many provisions that are either wholly or partly archaic in their wording or functions, or unenforceable by federal laws and court rulings. Efforts to remove or amend these have so far proved unsuccessful. Examples include the following:

  • Section 86 mandates that "The legislature shall pass such penal laws as it may deem expedient to suppress the evil practice of dueling" (this is not unique to the Alabama Constitution; other State constitutions have similar provisions).
  • Section 90 gives instructions on the proper method of annexing foreign territory.
  • Section 191 deals with "the evils arising from the use of intoxicating liquors at all elections."
  • Section 244 deals with granting of free railroad tickets to elected officials.
  • Section 245 prohibits railroads from misleading customers as to their rates.

Reform movement

There is a growing movement for democratic reform of the Alabama constitution. It is spearheaded by the non-profit organization Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR), which was formed out of a rally in Tuscaloosa in 2000. ACCR tracks its reported successes and failures on its website. ACCR has also lent its help to a documentary titled It's a Thick Book; the title, referring to the Constitution, comes from a comment made by a civil servant at the attorney general's office when requested for a hard copy of it.

There are a growing number of advocates agree on the need to reform the Alabama Constitution, yet they disagree on matters including the way to go about reworking the document. Some advocate for a constitutional convention to rewrite the document, including many leaders within ACCR. Other leaders, including former Governor Bob Riley and Speaker Mike Hubbard, desire to see the Constitution rewritten through an article-by-article approach. Bills to call for a constitutional convention have appeared in the Alabama Legislature yet have not been brought to a vote.

See also

  • The Constitution of India, the world's longest national constitution
  • The California Constitution, also known for its length (the second-longest in the United States and the third-longest in the world) and its constantly changing nature (due to its amendment provisions)
  • The Texas Constitution, also known for its length and lack of flexibility

References

  1. ^ Using http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/ for 1.50 1901 dollars in 2007

External links


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