Mr. Benjamin S. Richardson
There is a great at deal of discussion in the press and among citizen groups, as to the need for constitutional reform in Alabama. Pointing to a tax structure that unfairly burdens the poorest Alabamians while raising dismally inadequate revenues and a legal structure that severely interferes with local governments' ability to meet local needs, constitutional reform supporters accuse Alabama's constitution of wrongfully locking in the present tax inequities and thwarting other desperately needed improvements.
It remains, however, extremely difficult to convince average Alabamians that something as abstract and seemingly removed from day-to-day life as a constitution could possibly be guilty of concrete harm. A colleague, stopping me in the hall, expressed this dilemma well: "I wish someone would explain exactly how and why our constitution causes such bad results."
A quick look at the United States Constitution, which enjoys widespread recognition as the highest example of how a constitution should work, provides helpful background. The U.S. Constitution guarantees all people certain fundamental rights, including freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, due process of law, equal protection under the laws, and the right to vote.
The U.S. Constitution also delegates to Congress (the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives) the power to pass laws addressing a variety of issues, for example, regulating commerce between the states, borrowing money, and levying federal taxes. By reserving powers to the individual states, the U.S. Constitution strikes a healthy balance between federal law covering issues of national concern, while allowing the states the ability to meet their needs, without seeking permission from Congress.
The U.S. Constitution is the shortest, most effective and longest lasting constitution in the world largely because it guards these fundamental rights without unnecessarily obstructing the ability of Congress and the state legislatures to meet their separate needs. Both Congress and state legislatures pass and amend laws under a legislative process that does not involve the cumbersome procedural steps necessary to amend a constitution.
The U.S. Constitution was not intended to be amended often and has only been amended 17 (not counting the first ten amendments which make up the Bill of Rights) times over the past 200 years. Most of these amendments either create greater fundamental rights or establish broad procedural safeguards of major importance. By guarding the fundamental rights of all people while delegating to Congress and the states the power to pass laws without being encumbered by the constitutional amendment process, metaphorically the U.S. Constitution resembles a well functioning air conditioner over a long, hot Alabama summer: both silently keep oppression at bay without interfering with the business of day-to-day life. Alabama’s constitution fails to even come close to resembling the U.S. Constitution. Rather than guarding fundamental rights and appropriately delegating the power to pass laws to the State Legislature and the local governing bodies, Alabama's constitution contains numerous detailed provisions that do not belong in a constitution. Alabama's constitutional amendment process unreasonably obstructs both the Legislature and the local governments from meeting state and local needs. By subjecting proposed changes to state and local laws to the constitutional amendment process, Alabama's constitution makes it extremely difficult to change the details of these laws. The negative effects of Alabama's constitution can be clearly seen in the area of taxation. Rather than following the model of the U.S. Constitution, which would delegate the authority over all tax matters to the Legislature or the local governing bodies, Alabama's constitution contains a thicket of tax…