Constitution of Alabama
At 340,136 words, the document is 12 times longer than the average state constitution, 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution, and is the longest still-operative constitution anywhere in the world. (The English version of the Constitution of India, the longest national constitution, is about 117,369 words long, a third of the length.)
About 90 percent of the document's length, as of 2012, comes from its 856 amendments. About 75 percent of the amendments cover only a single county or city, and some deal with salaries of specific officials (e.g. Amendment 480 and the Greene County probate judge). This gives Alabama a large number of constitutional officers.
The Preamble runs:
- We the people of the State of Alabama, in order to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution and form of government for the State of Alabama.
Alabama has had 6 constitutions to date, all established via State Conventions: 1819 (converting Alabama Territory into a State), 1861 (Secession), 1865 (Reconstruction), 1868 (ending Reconstruction), 1875, and the current 1901 constitution.
The Alabama Constitution, in common with all state constitutions, defines the standard tripartite government. Executive power is vested in the Governor of Alabama, legislative power in the Alabama State Legislature (bicameral, composed of the Alabama House of Representatives and Alabama Senate), and judicial power in the Judiciary of Alabama. Direct, partisan, secret, free elections are provided for filling all branches.
The length and chaos of the current constitution is both the product and the result of heavy centralization of power in the state government, leaving very little authority to local units. Only seven counties—Jefferson, Lee, Mobile, Madison, Montgomery, Shelby, and Tuscaloosa—have any form of home rule. The other counties must lobby the local legislation committees of the state house and senate—and ipso facto uninvolved parts of the state—to pass even the simplest local laws.
The constitution addresses many issues that are dealt with by statute in most other states, most notably taxation. Unlike most states, a large portion of Alabama's tax code is written into the constitution, necessitating its amendment over minor tax issues. This prevents most local governments from passing any ordinances on taxation. Although the home rule counties can ordinance on tax issues, even that authority is limited. For instance, Jefferson County can't pass ordinances related to property taxes. According to The New York Times, Alabama's tax code is one of the most regressive in the nation.
Adding to the problem is the requirement that any constitutional amendment must be submitted for a statewide vote if it is not unanimously approved by the legislature. This has resulted in amendments relating to local counties and municipalities being overwhelmingly approved in the affected areas, but rejected statewide. 
The President of the Constitutional Convention, John B. Knox, stated in his inaugural address that the intention of the convention was "to establish white supremacy in this State", "within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution" (Day 2 of 54). Section 181 required the use of literacy tests to enroll voters, while Section 180 grandfathered in anyone who served in the military, or descended from them. Section 194 required the payment of 1.50 USD poll tax (Worth approximately 37.74 USD by CPI). All of these were invalidated by the Voting Rights Act.
The constitution still requires racially segregated education in the state. Section 256 states that "separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race." This provision was struck down by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and has not been enforced since the 1960s. The continued existence of these provisions is seen by many as an embarrassment to the state. In 2004 and 2012, ballot measures were put before the electorate to remove this language from the constitution. The 2004 proposal was rejected over concerns that removing the clause would force the state to raise taxes in order to support the education system. The 2012 proposal was opposed by both the Alabama Education Association, and surprisingly by many black leaders. Both claimed that striking out the racist language would reinstate a 1956 amendment stating that Alabama did not recognize a right to public education. They feared that if the referendum passed, the state would be forced to cut spending for education.
Section 177 denied women the right to vote by confining voting rights to "male citizens," but this was rendered unenforceable by the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution until Amendment 579 was substituted, which contained no reference to gender.
Section 182 disqualified from registering and voting all "idiots and insane persons," men who interracially married, and those convicted of "crime against nature" (homosexuality).
Size and local relevance
The document has been amended to address many diverse topics, such as:
- Bingo (Amendments 386 and 387 in Jefferson, further amended by Amendment 600 in Madison Counties, Amendment 413 in Montgomery County, Amendment 440 in Mobile County, Amendment 506 in Etowah County, Amendment 508 in Calhoun County, Amendment 699 in Morgan County, Amendment 612 in Russell County, Amendment 674 in Lowndes County, and Amendment 692 in Limestone County, all of which are almost or exactly the same)
- Mosquito control taxes in Mobile County (Amendment 351), which was later amended by Amendment 361 to remove a single word (tangible), then further amended by Amendment 393 to expand it to "other general health purposes" so long as these purposes do not take more than 50% of the collected money.
- Boll weevil taxes on cotton growers (Amendment 449)
- Promotion of catfish (Amendment 492), soybeans (Twice, Amendment 315 and Amendment 401), cattle (Twice, Amendment 201 and Amendment 452), poultry (Twice, Amendment 214 and amended by Amendment 428), swine (Twice, Amendment 327 and Amendment 400), an omnibus amendment for peanuts, milk, and cotton (Amendment 388), grain (Amendment 453), sheep and goats (Amendment 715), and shrimp and seafood generally (Amendment 766).
- Dead farm animals (Amendment 482 in Limestone County by the County Commission)
- Prostitution (Amendment 688 in Jefferson County).
- Exhumation in Madison County (Amendment 520 by the County Commission), see also the above entry for Dead farm animals in Limestone county
- Forest fire tax levies in Marshall County (Amendment 439)
- Nuisance (Amendment 497 in Jefferson County)
The Legislature has also been forced to amend amendments that often concerned similarly trivial matters (See other sections for more examples):
- Public debt over Mobile County (Amendments 152 and 363 over Amendment 18)
- Promotion of Madison County and Huntsville (Amendment 254 over Amendment 191)
- Special taxation for public healthcare in Mobile County (Amendment 248 over Amendment 195)
- Taxation for "Furtherance of Education" in Jefferson County (Amendments 248, 260, and 298 over Amendment 175)
- Civic center bonds (Amendment 280 over Amendment 238)
- Fire protection and waste collection in Jefferson County (Amendments 314 and 369 over Amendment 239)
- Use of gas taxes (Amendment 354 over Amendment 93)
- Mosquito control taxes (See above)
- The State Judiciary (Amendments 328, 364, and 426 over the original Article VI, later amendments 580 and 581 were made directly to the article and not previous amendments.
- School taxes in Huntsville (Amendment 407 over Amendment 218)
- Fire department districts in Etowah County (Amendment 445 over Amendment 432)
- The Jackson City Port Authority (Amendment 477 over Amendment 465)
- Constitutional amendments that deal with one county (Amendment 555 over Amendment 425
- The Madison County Judiciary (Amendment 607 over Amendment 334)
- Corporation taxation (Amendment 662 over Amendment 212)
- Fire/Emergency services taxes in Montgomery County (Amendment 711 over Amendment 551)
- Calhoun County school district taxes (Amendment 720 over 291)
- More fire protection taxes, this time in DeKalb County (Amendment 728 over Amendment 637)
- Court costs for a new Russell County jail (Amendment 736 over 507)
- Some reservoir Authority in Fayette County, Alabama (751 over Amendment 538)
- Even more fire protection taxes, now in Pickens County (Amendment 765 over Amendment 649)
- Section 97 prohibits deceased officials from receiving a salary.
The constitution includes many provisions that are either wholly or partly archaic in their wording or functions, or unenforceable by federal laws and court rulings. Efforts to remove or amend these have so far proved unsuccessful. Examples include the following:
- Section 86 mandates that "The legislature shall pass such penal laws as it may deem expedient to suppress the evil practice of dueling" (this is not unique to the Alabama Constitution; other State constitutions have similar provisions).
- Section 90 gives instructions on the proper method of annexing foreign territory.
- Section 191 deals with "the evils arising from the use of intoxicating liquors at all elections."
- Section 244 deals with granting of free railroad tickets to elected officials.
- Section 245 prohibits railroads from misleading customers as to their rates.
There is a growing movement for democratic reform of the Alabama constitution. It is spearheaded by the non-profit organization Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (ACCR), which was formed out of a rally in Tuscaloosa in 2000. ACCR tracks its reported successes and failures on its website. ACCR has also lent its help to a documentary titled It's a Thick Book; the title, referring to the Constitution, comes from a comment made by a civil servant at the attorney general's office when requested for a hard copy of it. Demetrius Newton, a civil rights attorney who served in the Alabama House of Representatives, pushed for a new constitutional convention.
There are a growing number of advocates who agree on the need to reform the Alabama Constitution, yet they disagree on matters including the way to go about reworking the document. Some advocate for a constitutional convention to rewrite the document, including many leaders within ACCR. Other leaders, including former Governor Bob Riley and Speaker Mike Hubbard, desire to see the Constitution rewritten through an article-by-article approach, similar to the process adopted by South Carolina, whose current constitution was once considered almost as chaotic as Alabama's. Bills to call for a constitutional convention have appeared in the Alabama Legislature yet have not been brought to a vote.
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- The Constitution of India, the world's longest national constitution
- The California Constitution, also known for its length (the second-longest in the United States and the third-longest in the world) and its constantly changing nature (due to its amendment provisions)
- The Texas Constitution, also known for its length and lack of flexibility
- Alabama Simmers Before Vote on Its Constitution’s Racist Language - New York Times, 31 October 2012
- Alabama Simmers Before Vote on Its Constitution’s Racist Language - New York Times, 31 Oct 2012
- Using http://www.measuringworth.com/uscompare/ for 1.50 1901 dollars in 2007
- Ala. Racist Language Measure Draws Unexpected Foes - NPR, 2 Nov 2012
- Amendment 4 fails, racist language stays - Alabama.com, 7 November 2012
- Text of the Constitution
- Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform