LWV logo gif


Coordinated with League actions and publications
Published September 3, 2002

  • William H. Stewart, "Failure of Reform: Attempts to Rewrite the 1901 Constitution." Chapter 4, pages 30-66, A Century of Controversy: Constitutional Reform in Alabama. Bailey Thomson, Ed. University of Alabama Press. 2002

  • League information from LWVAL files and publications, especially Constitutional Revision Update, April, 1976 by Anne Findley Shores.

The three Constitutions that received public hearings and League action in 1975, 1979 and 1983 are identified by this font.


| Top | Constitutional Reform in AL | LWVAL Home |

flag bar

Early recognition of defects in the 1901 Constitution

1915 Governor Emmet O'Neal, as he leaves office, calls for a new constitution to replace "our present antiquated fundamental law" with its "insuperable barriers to most of the important reforms necessary to meet modern conditions and to secure economy and efficiency in the administration ... of state government." O'Neal recommends a convention, because the defects "are so numerous and radical, and so intermingled in the different sections that trying to fix the document through amendments would be practically impossible." The call is largely ignored.

1923 Governor Thomas Kilby on leaving office repeats the call, citing "limitations and inhibitions" the constitution places on "progressive legislation, badly needed and greatly desired." In addition to a convention, Kilby suggests appointing a commission of citizens in advance to draft suggested changes for consideration. No action.

1932 The Brookings Institution at the behest of governor and legislature conducts a comprehensive study of Alabama state government It concludes, "No adequate reorganization of the government of Alabama is possible without amendment of a considerable number of the provisions of the present Constitution." It supports O'Neal and Kilby on the need for a convention and for wholesale revision rather than piecemeal amendment. No action. The Alabama Policy Committee of academics, business leaders, journalists, church activists, and a few elected officials continue to call for a new constitution from the mid-thirties through the mid-forties.


flag bar

Governor Folsom's Special Sessions

1946 Governor James E. Folsom, Sr., "Big Jim," immediately after taking office calls a special session of the Legislature to authorize the calling of a constitutional convention. He especially desires the removal of the poll tax and legislative reapportionment.

1950 Five special sessions called to authorize a convention take no action.

1951 First Convention of LWVAL agrees to study election law and to work to abolish the poll tax. Education is also a concern.

1954-1955 Back in office, Governor Folsom again tries for a constitutional convention limited to legislative reapportionment. The Alabama Supreme Court rules out a "limited" convention.


flag bar

League of Women Voters of Alabama focuses on Constitutional Reform, identifying the Constitution as the root cause of problems previously studied, especially Finance and Taxation 1958-1966.

1966 LWVAL Convention adopts "a study of the Alabama Constitution with a view toward revision and in preparation for a constitutional convention." Printed copies of the current constitution are rare; the length and many amendments discourage printing.

1967 State Council rewords the study item: "Constitutional Revision: Examination of the Alabama Constitution with a view towards a constitutional convention."

The first consensus favors over-all revision and suggests a commission-convention combination as probably the most suitable vehicle but does not oppose any vehicle which can secure reform. Objections to the 1901 are summed up as (1) The multitude of amendments with accompanying expense for special elections to approve same; (2) emphasis on statutory rather than fundamental law; and (3) obsolete unconstitutional aspects.

1968 LWVAL Convention, noting the need for solid understanding of specific issues, adopts a study item: Constitutional Revision: Support for constitutional revision with further study in the areas of local government, and the executive, legislative and judicial articles. A review of the old Finance and Taxation study and support positions in the light of constitutional change is also projected.

1969 Consensus on Finance and Taxation is reached in April. Item 6 of the existing CR positions is adopted. A separate Taxation and Finance position, previously adopted, which includes removal of sales taxes on food, remains in force and is later updated to the current separate Taxation and Finance position.

1970 In January consensus is reached on the Local Government position, now item 1 of the current CR positions.

In November the Executive-Legislative Branches position, essentially items 2-4 of the current CR positions is adopted.

Study of the Judicial Branch is delayed because League members are participants in the Citizens Conference on the Judiciary in 1966.

1972 LWV Convention adopts a new program item as an outgrowth of the CR study: "Alabama Legislature: Study and evaluate means of increasing the effectiveness of the Alabama Legislature." Many non-constitutional changes needed to improve the legislature's responsiveness to the needs of all the people are identified. The separate (non CR) position on Legislative and Executive Branches contains recommendations from this study.


flag bar

Renewed legislative interest and Governor Brewer's leadership

1967 Several legislators persuade majorities in the House and the Senate to establish a joint Constitutional Revision Committee. It favors a relatively small convention and a small representative Constitutional Revision Commission to support the convention with research and advice.

1969 Governor Albert P. Brewer, who succeeds upon the death of Governor Luleen B. Wallace, persuades the legislature to establish a Constitutional Commission. Chaired by Shelby County Probate Judge Conrad Fowler, the Commission appointed by the Governor, House and Senate leadership, contains a range of citizens including constitutional scholars and a predominance of lawyers.

1971 Governor Brewer leaves office. Governor George Wallace returns.

1970-1973 The Commission continues to work, always in open public meetings, which are poorly attended. League testifies before the Commission and generally supports its work. According to the authoritative book on the Commission, League is the most faithful public participant. "League witnesses were well-prepared and gave consistent and effective expression to the need for constitutional reform in Alabama."

Proposed Constitution of Alabama: Report of the Constitutional Commission, May 1, 1973 Published in yellow covers. 169 pages. Text of proposed constitution; Commentaries on the proposals, listing changes precisely and explaining their intent; articles on why complete revision is needed, brief summary of the proposed changes, and how amendments to the 1901 constitution correspond to sections of the proposed revision.

An important feature of this constitution, which League repeatedly praises in its testimony, is that each of the fourteen articles is carefully drawn to be completely self-contained so that each could be adopted separately without affecting other articles of the present constitution.

Annual legislative sessions and the Judicial Article are chosen for first attempt at passage rather than the whole constitution.

1971 Attempt to pass Annual Sessions of the Legislature, with yearly salary for legislators, is rejected by the voters.

1973 Howell Heflin, newly elected Chief Justice, leads a campaign to pass the Judicial Article from the 1973 Proposed Constitution. LWV Board approves a shortened study process, based on members' familiarity with the Judicial Conferences and other studies. Study materials are distributed to every member and the consensus is obtained from members by mail. The position adopted is the current one, item 5 of the current position. League plays a major role in the campaign that secures passage of the proposed article, which includes all of the League position but the merit selection of judges. Judge Heflin writes the League, "I could not have done it without you."

1974 First Alabama Legislature elected according to the one-man, one-vote rulings by the federal courts and other court-ordered reapportionment.

1975 Annual Sessions of the Legislature are approved following a campaign led by League and a state committee headed by former Sen. Richard Dominick, a supporter of legislative reform since 1970.

1975 The entire constitution from the Commission of 1973 is introduced in the House and Senate in the regular legislative session. League testifies before the Joint House and Senate Constitutions and Elections Committee, where the constitution receives lengthy consideration. The session ends before it goes to the full House.

1976 League publication: Constitutional Revision Update by Anne Findley Shores (19 pages). The history of League's CR efforts from the beginning. Authoritative explanations of the positions and their backgrounds.


flag bar

Governor James' Constitutional Reforms

1979 The James Constitution by a working group James appoints soon after taking office, has some resemblance to the 1973 Proposal but emphasizes James' special interest in removing the requirement for statewide voting on local amendments, in direct democracy (initiative and recall) and in low property taxes. It also removes earmarking of taxes for education and offers home rule for local governments. League addresses the working group and testifies on behalf of its positions during the legislature's consideration of the constitution. League works in coalition with the Jaycees and a group of distinguished citizens, Alabamians for A Modern Constitution. The Senate passes the constitution, but it dies in the House.

1980 League Publication: Facts and Issues: Constitutional Revision ???? Direct Legislation by Imogene Dillon. Examines the pros and cons of Initiative, Indirect Initiative, and Recall. No position is taken.


flag bar

The Legislature's Constitution

1983 Lt. Governor Baxley with legislative allies like Ryan DeGraffenried, State Senator from Tuscaloosa, moves to fulfill his campaign promise, despite the disinterest of Governor Wallace. This legislative constitution focuses on "cleaning up" the cluttered 1901 constitution by eliminating obsolete and duplicative provisions. The result is a document shorter by two-thirds and more understandable.

League testifies before the Interim Joint Committee on Constitutional Revision of the Alabama Legislature. League supports a provision (from the 1973 Constitution) to continue current appropriations into the next fiscal year if the legislature fails to pass general appropriation bills and also supports the constitutional mandate for a code of ethics for legislators, public officers and employees. This constitution contains no local government article. Though optional plans for localities are mentioned, conflicting provisions from 1901 constitution remain. League recommends the Local Government Article of the 1973 Commission. Taxation and Finance reforms are also too few, according to League positions.

League Publication: Facts and Issues: Observations on the Proposed New State Constitution by Anne Findley Shores analyses the proposal Article, by Article for its conformity to League positions.

The Legislative Constitution passes both houses of the Legislature as a single amendment that would replace the 1901 constitution with the new one. One week before the statewide referendum, the Alabama Supreme Court, in State v. Manley, forbids the vote, on the grounds that the legislature cannot offer a whole constitution in the guise of a single amendment. The Legislature may amend only Article by Article. Only a convention can completely rewrite the constitution.

1987-1989 League reviews its Finance and Taxation positions. Consensus produces the positions now existing as the separate (non CR) Finance and Taxation Position.

1988 League Publication: Alabama's Money: Government Finance and Taxation by Joyce Woodworth explains all of Leagues Finance and Taxation positions. The update in 1991 revises only the statistics.


flag bar

Incremental Changes

1994 A constitutional amendment establishes a new procedure for consideration of purely local amendments, keeping the commission that was created in 1982 to decide what should go on the statewide ballot. Changes making it more difficult for a single legislator to require a statewide vote have the effect of significantly increasing the number of amendments.

1995 The Legislature drafts and voters approve an amendment to clean up Article VIII on Voting and Elections of the 1901 Constitution by removing invalid sections with racist language.


flag bar

Recent League Actions and Documents

2000 In May, State Council in Baldwin County adopts a study to determine the best means of rewriting the Alabama Constitution.

In the fall, Leagues receive Alabama Constitutional Revision,2000 by Anne Findley Shores, which provides background for the study. In addition to a brief history of League actions, it contains short analyses of League positions on Taxes and on Local Government.

2001 Leagues receive A New Constitution for Alabama: How Should We Do It? by Charlotte Ward, which examines the pros and cons of the convention and the legislative methods of rewriting, provides background on related issues, and poses the consensus question.

2002 Adoption of position supporting a convention as the best means of rewriting the



| Top | Constitutional Reform in AL | LWVAL Home |