July 21, 2023


This is a bit of a different post for me, I started trying to write this as a post or two on Mastodon, but it got too long & cumbersome.

When I was working on Open States I became familiar with a lot of the quirks of state legislatures.

A lot of this mostly became trivia, answers to questions when I’d speak at conferences, “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen in a state legislature?” was a common one and I had a rotating list of answers.

So, the Alabama Legislature is trying to reject a Supreme Court order to redraw gerrymandered districts. (See last boosted post for context.)

This is a big deal, but if this is a surprise to you, I want to talk a little bit about Alabama’s legislature.

In 1901, Alabama passed a new constitution. It was the most extreme Jim Crow constitution in the country. A few facts about it:

  1. It was the longest constitution in the world, at 310,000 words. The US Constitution is less than 5,000 words. Most state constitutions are around 25,000 words. India’s constitution is around 145,000 words (in English), making it the longest national constitution.

  2. It was this long in part, because it pretty much completely abolished home rule for most parts of the state. It ensured that black voters would have no say in local government even where they made up majorities.

This meant that things like schools, roads, mosquito abatement, etc. were all controlled by the state legislature. Of course the state legislature was heavily gerrymandered as well for good measure. Not to mention other laws in effect to suppress minority voters such as an illegal poll tax.

  1. And just in case you stumbled upon this and want to argue, “it isn’t about racism”– let’s look at some quotes from the opening remarks by the unanimously elected president of the constitutional convention, John B. Knox:

“In my judgment, the people of Alabama have been called upon to face no more important situation than now confronts us, unless it be when they, in 1861, stirred by the momentous issue of impending conflict between the North and the South, were forced to decide whether they would remain in or withdraw from the Union.

Then, as now, the negro was the prominent factor in the issue.”

Weird, I thought the Civil War wasn’t about that

He goes on: “And what is it that we want to do? Why it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State.”

Ohmigod, he admit it.

Finally, you may be thinking, well this was 1901! Surely this was all fixed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

No- This constitution remained in effect until 2022, when a “reorganized” version was adopted. This version removes the most egregious racist language, but mostly just shuffles parts around, it is still over 100k words long.

And removing obsoleted laws against interracial marriage, etc. is not the same as removing the racist intent of the constitution.

(Also, 22% of voters voted against the reorganization, so they either really liked the specific section numbers or were attached to the racist language.)

Of the 11 confederate states: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina

Five have a post-1965 constitution: Georgia (1983), Louisiana (1975), Virginia (1971), North Carolina (1971), and Florida (1969).

That leaves six states with pre-1965 constitutions: South Carolina (1895), Mississippi (1890), Alabama (1901), Texas (1876), Arkansas (1874), and Tennessee (1870).

South Carolina and Mississippi both notably have their Jim Crow constitutions still in effect, but neither went to nearly the same extremes as Alabama.