Editorial: Repairing our wrongs — When rewriting the Constitution, do it right — so it’ll last
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jun 13, 2013 | 2450 views |  0 comments | 151 151 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Casual observers of Alabama’s way of doing business may have a hard time understanding why it’s so hard to Lysol the racist language out of the state’s 1901 Constitution.

So do we.

On the most basic level, the Constitution deserves its vile reputation. Written by post-Reconstruction bigots who wanted to keep blacks and poor whites “in their place” and redeem state government, the 1901 document is destructive in two distinct ways: (1.) it centralizes power in Montgomery and turns the Legislature into a statewide city council, and (2.) it stains the state’s reputation because it still contains language that is racist, inappropriate and wholly unnecessary. It’s embarrassing and dehumanizing. It must go.

The best path would have been a complete rewrite of the state Constitution; it’s that important to Alabama’s future. Nevertheless, and at the very least, we’re glad that the Constitutional Revision Commission established by the Legislature is moving the process forward — albeit with a laborious article-by-article revision.

As Star reporter Tim Lockette explained in Thursday’s edition, the commission is now tackling the article that covers public education. That is one of the thorniest portions of the Constitution because it’s wrapped in racist overtones of the past and Alabamians’ two ballot-box rejections of changes in the past decade.

“The problem,” former Gov. Albert Brewer, chairman of the commission, told The Star, “is that everyone is anticipating a lawsuit.” Which is so Alabama, of course.

Not that Brewer is wrong to think that way. The document, in its racist and current form, states that “nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating ... a right to education.” Legislators haven’t been able to remove that language for a number of reasons, the most recent of which was the fear of court orders that would require equal funding of schools — or so believed by Alabamians who voted down the change in 2004.

Our advice: re-write the education portion of the Constitution as it should be. Or, as commission member Vicki Drummond, said, commissioners should ignore the fate of past amendments and try to pen the best possible wording.

“What do we want, and think ought to be, the law?” she said. “Let’s not worry about what happened in the past.”

Unfortunately, worrying about the past is an obsession for some people in Alabama. The reasons are clear: the past has left a trail of regrettable policies and legislation the state still is trying to repair.

We commend the Constitutional Revision Commission on its work thus far, but we also urge it not to wimp out and pass weak recommendations. Some changes must occur. This is one of them.
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