- 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.
Constitutions that received public hearings and League action in 1975,
1979 and 1983 are identified by this font.
| Constitutional Reform in AL
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Early recognition of defects in the
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.
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.
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.
Governor Folsom's Special Sessions
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.
in office, Governor Folsom again tries for a constitutional convention
limited to legislative reapportionment. The Alabama Supreme Court rules
out a "limited" convention.
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.
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.
Council rewords the study item: "Constitutional Revision: Examination
of the Alabama Constitution with a view towards a constitutional
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.
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.
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.
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
Renewed legislative interest and
Governor Brewer's leadership
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.
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."
Constitution of Alabama: Report of the Constitutional Commission, May
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
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
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."
Alabama Legislature elected according to the one-man, one-vote rulings
by the federal courts and other court-ordered reapportionment.
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.
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.
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
Governor James' Constitutional
1979 The James
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
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.
The Legislature's Constitution
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.
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
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
reviews its Finance and Taxation positions. Consensus produces the
positions now existing as the separate (non CR) Finance and Taxation
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.
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.
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.
Recent League Actions and Documents
2000 In May, State Council in Baldwin
County adopts a study to determine the best means of rewriting the
In the fall, Leagues receive Alabama Constitutional
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