Alabama Constitution revisionists aren’t giving up

Gavel

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Advocates of rewriting Alabama’s 113-year-old constitution aren’t giving up even though the process stalled after an advisory opinion from Chief Justice Roy Moore disputed the legality of the process.

“If I come back in the next quadrennium, I’m going to continue to push for us to finish up the job we started,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said.

Alabama’s 1901 constitution is the longest of any state, with more than 800 amendments. One portion can be amended by the Legislature approving a proposed constitutional amendment and submitting it to voters statewide for ratification. The whole document can be rewritten if the Legislature and Alabama voters approve of holding a constitutional convention with delegates from across the states.

After Republicans won control of the Legislature in the 2010 election, the new Republican leadership began pushing to rewrite the constitution one article at a time. The Legislature created a commission to make recommendations. Then the Legislature turned those recommendations into proposed constitutional amendments, which were approved by lawmakers and submitted to voters statewide for approval.

So far, the process has led to the articles on banking and corporations being revised and approved by voters.

In the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers were working on five articles. After some critics challenged the legality of the process, the chairman of the Senate Constitution and Elections Committee, Republican Bryan Taylor of Prattville, asked the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion. The answers caused the committee to put its work on hold Wednesday.

Chief Justice Moore and Justice Tom Parker wrote advisory opinions this month saying the Legislature’s article-by-article revision is not constitutional.

Moore said addressing a few articles each year does not change the reality that the Legislature has undertaken a near total rewrite of the document through an in-house constitutional convention. “By wresting the convention process from the people, the Legislature has unconstitutionally made itself the paramount mechanism of constitutional revisions,” he said.

The other seven justices on the Supreme Court declined to issue opinions.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Moore’s advisory opinion brought work to a halt. “For me, that’s not a reason to stop moving forward,” he said.

He said he hopes to re-energize the effort, possibly in the current session, even though the Legislature has only six days left to meet.

Republican Dick Brewbaker of Pike Road, a member of the Senate Constitution and Elections Committee, said it was time to pause and seek clarification, including seeing whether the other seven justices might offer their views. “The court needs to unmuddy the waters,” he said.

Hubbard said, “I don’t believe we should stop just because you have two justices of the Supreme Court making an advisory opinion. That’s their opinion. Obviously there are nine justices. That means seven may not necessarily agree with that.”

Nancy Ekberg of Birmingham, communications chairman for Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said the Constitutional Revision Commission created by the Legislature expired in 2013, but its recommendations live on and can be considered at any time.

“No one should give up hope,” she said.

Birmingham attorney Lenora Pate, chairman of the group, said it has always supported having a constitutional convention and what has happened in the Legislature may create more discussion about that. But she said it’s too early to say.

“This is an election year, and we don’t know who will be in the Legislature for the next quadrennium. We don’t know what the focus will be,” she said.

There is one thing she is sure about.

“The effort for constitutional reform is not over,” she said.

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