The Alabama Legislature may be acting without legal authority by rewriting the state Constitution a few sections at a time. In advisory opinions sent to legislators, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Justice Tom Parker said the Legislature’s article-by-article approach is not allowed by the Alabama Constitution. The Chief Justice said putting out a few new provisions each year for voters to approve does not change the reality that the Legislature has undertaken a near total revision of the Constitution through an in-house constitutional convention. The Chief Justice wrote in the advisory opinion, which was supported by Justice Parker, as follows:
By wresting the convention process from the people, the Legislature has unconstitutionally made itself the paramount mechanism of constitutional revisions.
The court’s other seven justices, for whatever reason, didn’t join in on the issue. But in 2013, many of the same justices upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Sandra Bell, executive director of the Association for Judeo-Christian Values. Ms. Bell was challenging the Legislature’s article-by-article approach to rewriting the Constitution. The current opinion came after Attorney General Luther Strange took the position that the state officials had immunity from suit. Republican Bryan Taylor of Prattville, chairman of the Senate’s Constitution and Elections Committee, had asked for the court’s advice in the form of an advisory opinion. For our readers’ information, the Alabama Constitution can be changed in two ways:
The current Constitution was written by a constitutional convention in 1901. Since then it has been amended more than 800 times. Now it’s the longest Constitution of any state. The Republican leadership in the Legislature has made revision of the state’s Constitution a priority. They wanted to delete portions that were outdated or negated by court rulings, and modernize the portions addressing businesses. The leadership elected not to go the constitutional convention route. Instead, the Legislature created a commission that includes public officials and private citizens to recommend revisions to a few articles each year, with the goal being to address 11 of the 18 articles in the Constitution.
This is how the article-by-article approach works. The Legislature takes the recommendations, reviews them and then passes the recommendations. Those are then submitted – each article individually – to voters for approval. Thus far, the Legislature has rewritten the articles on banking and corporations, which have been approved by voters. In the current legislative session, lawmakers are considering these rewrites:
It appears Constitutional reform – by whatever name – is dead for this session. Any real enthusiasm for constitutional revision cooled off after the court’s advisory opinion. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh says that the reform movement will continue in future sessions. But I am reasonably sure that the legislature will continue in future sessions to follow the same approach for “reform.”
If the people of Alabama would really get behind reform, I believe we would see a vastly different attitude in the House and Senate. Personally, I prefer a constitutional convention where the people of Alabama would have a real voice in revision of the 1901 Constitution, a document that literally has already been amended into a new constitution. Unfortunately, few Alabama citizens know what most of those amendments do either to or for them.
Source: Associated Press
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