Your Guide To Alabama’s 2020 Constitutional Amendments

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Miranda Fulmore, WBHM

Much of the focus this election season has been on the presidential race or Alabama’s U.S. Senate contest. But voters will also see six statewide constitutional amendments on the ballot.

The language of these amendments can be pretty convoluted. Each year the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama offers analysis of the amendments. Senior research associate Thomas Spencer broke them down for WBHM.

Amendment 1

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to amend Article VIII of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Section 177 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, to provide that only a citizen of the United States has the right to vote.

Currently, the Alabama Constitution allows “every” U.S citizen the right to vote. This amendment would change that to “only” U.S. citizens could vote. The push is part of a national movement.

“The group is concerned that in some small number of local races around the country non-citizens have been allowed to vote in, say, school board elections,” Spencer said.

In practice, the amendment does not change who can or can’t vote in Alabama.

Amendment 2

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to increase the membership of the Judicial Inquiry Commission and further provide for the appointment of the additional members; further provide for the membership of the Court of the Judiciary and further provide for the appointment of the additional members; further provide for the process of disqualifying an active judge; repeal provisions providing for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justices and appellate judges and the removal for cause of the judges of the district and circuit courts, judges of the probate courts, and judges of certain other courts by the Supreme Court; delete the authority of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to appoint an Administrative Director of Courts; provide the Supreme Court of Alabama with authority to appoint an Administrative Director of Courts; require the Legislature to establish procedures for the appointment of the Administrative Director of Courts; delete the requirement that a district court hold court in each incorporated municipality with a population of 1,000 or more where there is no municipal court; provide that the procedure for the filling of vacancies in the office of a judge may be changed by local constitutional amendment; delete certain language relating to the position of constable holding more than one state office; delete a provision providing for the temporary maintenance of the prior judicial system; repeal the office of circuit solicitor; and make certain nonsubstantive stylistic changes.

This amendment makes changes to Alabama’s judicial system in what Spencer describes as a housekeeping measure. Among the changes, it would end the practice of the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court appointing the administrative director of courts. Instead, that position would be hired by all nine Supreme Court justices.

“The idea behind that is to give more continuity, rather than having the administrator of the court system change with every chief justice,” Spencer said.

The amendment makes changes to the Judicial Inquiry Commission, a body that can investigate misconduct by judges and remove them if found guilty. It would expand the number of people on the panel from 9 to 11. Also, the amendment would end the practice of automatically suspending a judge when a misconduct investigation begins.

Finally, the measure would eliminate one of the two ways judges can be removed from the bench. Right now, judges can be removed through the commission or impeached and removed by the Alabama Legislature. If this amendment passes, only the commission could remove judges.

Amendment 3

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that a judge, other than a judge of probate, appointed to fill a vacancy would serve an initial term until the first Monday after the second Tuesday in January following the next general election after the judge has completed two years in office.

When a judge is appointed to fill a vacancy, that judge can serve for one year. He or she then must go before voters in the next general election to stay on the bench. This amendment would lengthen that initial time frame to two years.

“The idea behind it, I suppose, is to give judges a little bit more time in office to get their feet on the ground,” Spencer said. “The drawback of course is it delays the time period under which the judge has not faced the electorate.”

Amendment 4

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to authorize the Legislature to recompile the Alabama Constitution and submit it during the 2022 Regular Session, and provide a process for its ratification by the voters of this state.

The Alabama Constitution is the longest in the world and is nearing 950 amendments. Many amendments only apply to individual counties or local jurisdictions. It also has many provisions that have since been declared unconstitutional by the federal courts, such as poll taxes or literacy test.

This amendment would charge the Legislative Services Agency with recompiling the document. Amendments would be grouped by the counties they affect. Racist language and unconstitutional sections would be removed.

That recompiled constitution would then go before the state legislature. If approved, the revised constitution would be put before voters for possible adoption.

Amendment 5

Relating to Franklin County, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that a person is not liable for using deadly physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on the premises of a church under certain conditions.

Amendment 6

Relating to Lauderdale County, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that a person is not liable for using deadly physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on the premises of a church under certain conditions.

Amendments 5 and 6 apply only to Franklin and Lauderdale counties respectively, but they deal with the same issue: the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law and churches. Under that law, a person facing an attack can use deadly force and not face criminal liability. The amendments were in response to a shooting at a Texas church in December 2019.

The Alabama law already covers churches across the entire state, but this amendment would put language into the Alabama Constitution applying it to churches in those two counties.  Churches and private businesses could still ban guns from their properties if they chose to.

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