State constitution as archaic as any in nation
Last week's column on Alabama's antiquated constitution evoked a good many emails and letters from many of you. There seems to be a lot of interest on this topic. Most of you are in favor of an overhaul. As a result of the interest, I will dwell on this subject for another week.
Alabama's 1901 constitution is as archaic as any in the nation. It has contributed to the poor image that persists today regarding our racist past. However, much of our perception damage was done during the 1960s. It was a fascinating and tumultuous era. Alabama political history was being written everyday. I was a Page in the State Legislature during these years. It was a great learning experience. The older House and Senate members would visit with the Pages and tutor us on the rules and nuances of parliamentary procedures.
One day I was looking around the House of Representatives and it occurred to me that the urban areas were vastly underrepresented. I knew that the U.S. Constitution required all people be represented equally and that the U.S. Constitution superseded our state constitution. Therefore, Alabama's constitutional document automatically mimicked this language. Both constitutions clearly state that the Legislative bodies of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Alabama House of Representatives must be re-apportioned every 10 years, and the representation should be based on one-man one vote. All districts should be apportioned equally, so that every person has the same and equal voice in their government. That is why the census is taken every 10 years. You take the number of people that a state has and divide them equally with the same number of people in each district. For example, currently Alabama has about 4.2 million people and our constitution calls for there to be 105 House districts. So each representative represents about 40,000 Alabamians.
Well, as a boy I knew that the Birmingham area was home to about 20 percent of the state's population and they certainly did not have 1/5 of the House members. The same was true of Huntsville and other large cities in north Alabama.
An unbelievable observation to me was that my county of Pike had two representatives and we had 28,000 people, while at the same time the county of Madison and the city of Huntsville had 186,000 people yet they also had two representatives. The most glaring mal-apportionment example would have to be in the late 1950s. Lowndes County had its own Senator with 2,057 voters while Jefferson County had one Senator with 130,000 voters. Well folks, that "ain't" quite fair.
The rural and Black Belt counties were enjoying the power that had been granted to them in 1901. It was probably mal-apportioned at that time. But it had grown severely imbalanced over the years. However, for a disparity like Madison County with 186,000 people having two seats and Pike County having two seats with 28,000 was astonishing.
The Legislature had simply ignored the constitutional mandate to re-apportion itself every 10 years. It was more than 70 years later in 1974 when the courts finally intervened and made the Legislature reapportion. They still could not do it themselves. The federal courts not only mandated the reapportionment, but also drew the lines and districts. It finally gave blacks representation in the Legislature and today about 25 percent of the seats are held by African-Americans. It also gave fair and equitable representation to the urban areas and north Alabama.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.