September 30, 2010
Appleseed and our network of Centers tackle tough structural problems that stand in the way of justice and opportunity. Perhaps no problem in Alabama today poses steeper obstacles to justice and opportunity than its outdated constitution, which contains provisions outlining a governmental structure and legislative process that pose a substantial barrier to progressive reforms that would benefit the stateʹs citizens. The century‐old document limits local government action and restrains economic development through a process that is unduly complicated, cumbersome and highly unpredictable.
ʺThe most compelling and fundamental issue facing the state of Alabama is constitutional reform,ʺ said Pickens. ʺOur antiquated and dysfunctional 1901 constitution is the root cause of the problems we have respecting local government authority, education, fiscal/budgetary sustainability and stability, and effective economic development. ʺ
Over the last six months, John Pickens, Alabama Appleseedʹs Executive Director, and Craig Baab, Senior Fellow of Policy & Development, have been the principal conveners of a new state constitutional reform coalition with five other Alabama non‐profit advocacy organizations whose mission is to initiate and sustain the development of a collaborative strategy to achieve a new state constitution. As a result, a Memorandum of Understanding was developed and signed by all the collaborating groups. Alabama Appleseed also secured the services of 36 pro bono lawyers from 19 firms in Birmingham, Alabamaʹs largest city, to interview community leaders on the negative impact of the stateʹs constitution and finalized three legal research white papers on the constitutionʹs impact on home rule, education and economic development. Similar pro bono efforts are being organized by Alabama Appleseed in the stateʹs other major metropolitan cities of Montgomery, Mobile and Huntsville.
When Alabamaʹs constitution was adopted, it gave local governments no general powers or authority and very limited authority to otherwise act, opting to invest power over local issues to the state level instead. As a result, Alabama citizens carry the burden of going through the state legislature to obtain permission to act on matters affecting only a single city or county. This causes substantial delays in implementing critical changes affecting citizens at the local level and the outcome is also then largely determined by statewide voters who have no knowledge or vested interest in the issue.
Additionally, the stateʹs constitution prohibits Alabamaʹs governmental institutions from participating in economic development, hindering state and local governmentʹs ability to attract businesses and industry to the state.
Alabama Appleseedʹs constitutional reform project, designed to strategically engage the legal community in constitutional reform, is in line with Appleseedʹs commitment to pro bono engagement of the legal community in public interest advocacy. Through these efforts, the Center supports the development of a new state constitution that will insure more democratic representation and better government at the state and local levels.
For more information, contact John Pickens at firstname.lastname@example.org .