Last edited: October 31, 2004

Is It Time for a Rewrite?

The Andalusia Star-News, October 16, 2004
207 Dunson Street, Andalusia, Alabama 36420
(334) 222-2402

By Kim Henderson

The “current” version was written in 1901.

It’s not so current by 2004 standards.

What’s known as Alabama’s highest code of law—the state’s constitution—to this day carries a plethora of strong racial and sexist language.

Section 102, which read, “The legislature shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a Negro, or descendant of a Negro,” was stricken down by an amendment (60 to 40 percent) as late as 2000.

Section 182 is still on the books. It lays out very specific—some of which are archaic—stipulations as to who cannot vote in this state.

That section reads: The following persons shall be disqualified both from registering, and from voting, namely: “All idiots and insane persons; those who shall by reason of conviction of crime be disqualified from voting at the time of the ratification of this Constitution; those who shall be convicted of treason, murder, arson, embezzlement, malfeasance in office, larceny, receiving stolen property, obtaining property or money under false pretenses, perjury, subornation of perjury, robbery, assault with intent to rob, burglary, forgery, bribery, assault and battery on the wife, bigamy, living in adultery, sodomy, incest, rape, miscegenation (interracial marriage or union), crime against nature, or any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary, or of any infamous crime or crime involving moral turpitude; also, any person who shall be convicted as a vagrant or tramp, or of selling or offering to sell his vote or the vote of another, or of buying or offering to buy the vote of another, or of making or offering to make a false return in any election by the people or in any primary election to procure the nomination or election of any person to any office, or of suborning any witness or registrar to secure the registration of any person as an elector.”

It sounds like you have to be a saint to vote.

Section 86 is entitled, “Suppression of Dueling.” The text states: “The legislature shall pass such penal laws as it may deem expedient to suppress the evil practice of dueling.”

Alabama politics do get heated at times, but I just can’t picture Governor Riley having to step in and break up a John Wayne-style brawl outside of the state capitol.

The following language, under Alabama’s Section 177, belied the rights of women to vote. Entitled, “Age and citizenship qualifications of electors,” the section states: “Every male citizen of this state who is a citizen of the United States, and every male resident of foreign birth, who, before the ratification of this Constitution, shall have legally declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, twenty-one years old or upwards, not laboring under any of the disabilities named in this article, and possessing the qualifications required by it, shall be an elector, and shall be entitled to vote at any election by the people; provided, that all foreigners who have legally declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, shall, if they fail to become citizens thereof at the time they are entitled to become such, cease to have the right to vote until they become such citizens.”

The preceding are a few examples of the long outdated laws remaining in Alabama’s constitution.

With 287 sections and a whopping 742 amendments, Alabama’s constitution is the largest state constitution in the United States.

Framers of the exhaustive Alabama law text met for 52 days before the document was completed.

According to the organization, Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR), the legislature spends nearly 50 percent of its time debating local issues, and over 70 percent of the state’s constitutional amendments apply to a single city or county.

Along with Amendment 2, seven other amendments will be presented to voters next month, from issues relating to Trussville and Crenshaw County to the shrimping industry.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to rewrite the entire document and leave local issues to local voters.

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