Unlike its federal counterpart, the Alabama Constitution inspires few admirers. Indeed, people who know the state's fundamental document respect it the least. Legal scholars deplore its mind-numbing length of more than 175,000 words. Historians decry its racist intention to disfranchise black citizens. Local officials labor under its prohibition against home rule and its protection of regressive taxation. Yet curiously, this document, which is probably the longest of its kind in the world, has survived at least five attempts to fix its problems or -- better yet -- replace it with something better. As former Gov. Albert Brewer, himself an unsuccessful reformer, declared recently, the constitution remains an "obstacle'' to any statewide leader who hopes to improve education, health or economic development.
Must yet another generation of Alabamians suffer for what the Mobile Press-Register described as the "sin of their fathers"? Nearly a century has passed since the 1901 document concentrated power in Montgomery at the expense of local self-rule. Certain special interests have flourished under these conditions, but not civic participation. To the contrary, the constitution has discouraged citizens from engaging in public life. For example, it denies them the right to overrule their imperial Legislature, while at the same time the document forces them to address local issues through constitutional amendments. That peculiar feature explains why the constitution is littered with forgotten provisions that properly belong in the statute books -- or better yet, among local ordinances. Meanwhile, fast-growing counties often cannot address their citizens' needs without going hat in hand to the Legislature, begging for relief because the constitution distrusts power that is close to home.
The Alabama Constitution Project begins with a belief that an informed citizenry, once allowed to deliberate, can make wise choices for the future. It calls upon people to rise above narrow special interest to promote the broad public interest. Under the umbrella of constitutional reform, Alabamians of many political stripes can congregate. Rather than seek privilege for the few, citizens can ratify broad principles that allow self-government to operate efficiently and fairly. As Thomas Paine observed, "a constitution is not an act of a government, but of a people constituting a government.'' Our project is dedicated to helping Alabamians create a public life that can fulfill the great promise of American democracy, while designing a government that will look beyond the sham of 1901 to the challenges and opportunities of the next century.
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