New Book Makes Case
For State Constitutional Reform
A Century of Controversy: Constitutional Reform
in Alabama. Bailey Thomson, editor.
University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa: 2002
($24.95, paper), 224 pp.
This timely examination of Alabama's severely criticized
state constitution will serve as an indispensable guide for legislators
and citizens considering reform of the outdated document.
Alabama's present constitution, adopted in 1901,
is widely viewed as the source of many, if not most, of the state's historic
difficulties and inequities. Chief among these is a poorly funded school
system, an imbalanced tax system that favors special business interests,
legislated racism, and unchecked urban sprawl. Many citizens believe that,
after 100 years of overburdening amendments and confusing addendums, the
constitution urgently needs rewriting.
With this book, Bailey Thomson has assembled the
best scholarship on the constitution, its history, and its implications
for the future.
Historian Harvey H. Jackson III details the degree
to which the 1901 document was drafted as a legal tool to ensure white
supremacy at the expense of poor whites and blacks, while Joe A. Sumners
illustrates how the constitution ties the hands of elected civic leaders
by handing authority for local decisions to state government in Montgomery.
James W. Williams Jr. explores the impact of the state constitution on
the beleaguered tax system and the three principal "revenue crises"
it has engendered. Thomson's own contribution explains how, in contrast
to the previous failed attempts for constitutional change by past governors
who appealed to their fellow power brokers, the current reform movement
arose from the grassroots level.
As citizens and politicians in Alabama review the
1901 constitution for revision, as they navigate the pitfalls and opportunities
inherent in change, it is incumbent that they inform themselves adequately
on the controversies that have swirled around the constitution since its
adoption. The future of Alabama's government will depend upon it, as will
the fortunes of Alabama's business interests and the well-being of every
citizen in the state for years to come.
Priscilla J. McWilliams