What Constitutes Progress?
I read an article on the constitutional convention bill with some dismay late last week in the paper. So moved was I that my state representative voted against it, that I sent an email sharing my disappointment. He wrote back over the weekend with a clear and passionate response. It pained me to read his personal email, because I now have a better understanding on how hard this is going to be… changing a constitution in a way that is constitutional (so to speak). Therefore I have asked (and received) permission to repost his response in its entirety. Hope it helps set the record straight from how the Birmingham News portrayed the deliberations last week. Now, I have to wonder if progress has been made by HB98 moving forward or if it’s another dead end on a road we may spend the rest of natural lives hoping we see the end of!!!
Thank you for your email. The report in The Birmingham News did not provide an accurate account of the discussion held in the Constitution and Elections Committee meeting on Wednesday.
First, I am a proponent of constitutional reform and am a co-sponsor on the first two article-by-article revisions sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco and passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation. At least one of these bills, if not both, is also co-sponsored by Speaker Pro-Tem Demetrius Newton, the sponsor of HB98. This approach also provides that the people vote on a reformed constitution.
Second, concerning the debate regarding HB98 for which your email is written, I voiced concern in committee that in its present form, HB98 may be unconstitutional as written. Article 18, Section 286 of the 1901 Constitution specifies that the power and jurisdiction of a duly assembled constitutional convention cannot be restricted. I am concerned that HB98 restricts a duly assembled convention as it establishes a mandatory date for concluding the convention, which in my opinion, should be the responsibility of the assembled convention. Further, it sets a mandatory date for an election by the voters, should a new constitution be drafted in convention, which may also be construed as a restriction upon the power and jurisdiction of the assembled convention. In committee, I raised a concern that these two mandatory requirements might be construed as restricting the power and jurisdiction of a legally assembled convention. Further, in committee, I motioned that we should refer HB98 to the Constitutional Revision Sub-Committee for a legal review of these questions, but my motion was promptly tabled by the majority party. I felt I had no choice but to vote no, given my unanswered concerns. If my concerns are correct, understanding that I do not know if they are or aren’t, then it would be a terrible waste of money and human effort if the product of a constitutional convention were deemed unconstitutional and thus invalid under Article 18, Section 286.
I believe that I was entrusted to make decisions for those whom I represent in a thoughtful and studied manner. I have attempted to conduct myself in this manner. While you may disagree with my position, I hope that you will better understand the underlying reasoning regarding my vote in committee.
While there is widespread acknowledgement that our state constitution needs to be reformed, there is disagreement among reform supporters as to the best method for achieving it. Regardless of the method ultimately chosen, any and all legislation that lays the ground work for reform must be iron-clad in its ability to meet the litmus test for constitutionality.
Representative Greg Canfield
State of Alabama House District 48
Jefferson & Shelby Counties
701 Montgomery Hwy, Ste 207
Birmingham, AL 35216
(205) 824-4734 District Office
(205) 822-5748 District Fax