Thursday, February 28, 2008
On this day:

Should Alabama hold a constitutional convention? (Part 1)

That was the question debated by Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks and Alabama Citizens for Contsitutional Reform co-chair Lenora Pate last night at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity here in Huntsville. Fellow Huntsville blogger Brian was there, and he has posted a good summary over at FlashPoint.

While Alabama's constitution has numerous flaws, I don't believe that it is so irreparably flawed as to warrant a constitutional convention.

The first thing to consider in any discussion of constitutional reform is that the Alabama constitution has almost 800 amendments, making it the longest written constitution in the world. It seems that amending the fundamental law of our state has become almost habitual. Without getting into the broader debate over whether the basic principles of the Alabama constitution are sound, there are three main reasons why this habit is a Bad Thing:
  1. Knowing what the fundamental law is is practically impossible, given the sheer number of amendments and their contradictions to each other and to the body of the Constitution;
  2. Knowing what the fundamental law will be in the future is unpredictable, given the state's propensity to change it on a whim; and
  3. When considering the relative value of all these amendments to the greater good - an average of almost 8 per year have been ratified over the past 107 years - it becomes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
These three objections to the Alabama Constitution form the basis of a conservative argument in favor of reform. First, a body of law that is both unknowable and unpredictable inevitably breeds contempt among the people it governs. Secondly, when the fundamental law of the land is weighted down with provisions that are not essential to the system of government that it establishes, it can easily become a malleable plaything for whatever faction holds the reins of power at a given time.

As to what sort of reform is necessary or how such reforms might be effected, I'll have to save that for later posts. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a question and a comment:

Why has the Alabama Constitution been amended so often? Is it that it is too easily amended or that there are things inherent to its structure that make amendment necessary? Or is it a combination of both?

The defects I have mentioned suggest that there is a conservative case for constitutional reform, not for a constitutional revolution. Alabama's constitution places greater restraint on the powers of state government and its agents than any other state constitution in the Union. A constitutional convention, which would likely result in a complete overhaul of our system of government, is both unjustified and unjustifiable.