A proposed Alabama Constitution of 2022 appears to be on its way to voters for ratification in this fall’s general election.
Today, the Alabama Senate passed a resolution to put the question on the ballot in November. The vote was 23-0. That follows approval by the House on a 94-0 vote last week.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature is the next step.
“Governor Ivey looks forward to signing the resolution to give the people of Alabama the opportunity to vote on it in November,” Gina Maiola, communications director for the governor, said in an email.
The proposed new constitution is a reorganized version of the Constitution of 1901, with racist, repealed, and duplicative sections removed.
The project, supported by Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, has been in the works for three years. In 2019, Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, sponsored legislation proposing to voters an amendment to authorize recompiling the constitution, with changes limited to five categories:
- Arranging the constitution in proper articles, parts, and sections
- Removing racist language
- Deleting duplicated and repealed provisions
- Consolidating provisions regarding economic development
- Arranging all local amendments by county of application
By a two-to-one margin, voters approved Coleman’s amendment in November 2020 to authorize the recompilation.
Since then, the Legislative Services Agency, with guidance from a 10-member committee and comments from the public, has compiled the new constitution. It can be found on the agency’s website, along with more information about how the process has worked.
The goal was to make the massive Alabama Constitution of 1901, which has been amended 977 times, easier to read, use, and understand, as well as eliminating sections intended to preserve racial segregation and white supremacy that predated the civil rights movement.
Coleman has credited the organization Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a nonprofit group started in 2000, with helping to spearhead the legislation.
Three sections were changed to repeal racist language.
Section 32, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, carries an exception, allowing involuntary servitude “for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.”
That exception was deleted from the revised constitution.
The authorization of involuntary servitude for punishment of a crime was used to force many Blacks into labor after the end of slavery.
African Americans made up more than 90% of convicts forced to work at farms, lumber yards and coal mines under Alabama’s convict-lease system, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.
Section 259 is a relic of the poll taxes used to disenfranchise Black voters. It says, “All poll taxes collected in this state shall be applied to the support and furtherance of education in the respective counties where collected.” That is deleted from the revised constitution.
Poll taxes were outlawed by the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1964.
Section 256 is a statement of policy on public education. It initially called for “separate schools for white and colored children.”
Alabama revised that with Amendment 111 in 1956, a period when the state tried to resist following the Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed segregated schools. The amendment says the state’s policy is to foster and promote public education but that the Legislature has the authority “to require or impose conditions or procedures deemed necessary to the preservation of peace and order.”
The revised constitution deletes that italicized language.
Also deleted from Section 256: “To avoid confusion and disorder and to promote effective and economical planning for education, the legislature may authorize the parents or guardians of minors, who desire that such minors shall attend schools provided for their own race, to make election to that end, such election to be effective for such period and to such extent as the legislature may provide.”
Parts of the 1901 Constitution that have long been invalidated by courts or annulled by other amendments, which remain in the document now, are deleted from the recompiled version. Examples are the requirement for “separate schools for white and colored children,” as well as Section 102, which says, “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.”