Vote ‘NO’ Amendment #1 or risk perilous consequences

J.S. “Chris” Christie, Jr.

Today’s guest columnist is J.S. “Chris” Christie, Jr.

Vote for Trump.

Vote for Biden.

You’ve probably already made up your mind.

But pay close attention to the constitutional amendments at the end of the ballot.

Amendment #1 is particularly troubling.

With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, would lose our state constitutional protection of our voting rights.

Currently, the Alabama Constitution, Art. VII, sec. 177, provides that “Every citizen of the United States . . . has the right to vote” in the county where the voter resides.

The November 3, 2020 ballot Amendment 1 deletes the one word “Every” before citizen and replaces it with “Only a” citizen.

If Amendment #1 passes, the Alabama constitution would read, “Only a citizen of the United States . . . has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides.”

Currently in Alabama, every and only citizens of the United States can vote—except for citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.  So, Alabama citizens convicted of a felony of moral turpitude can’t vote now; that would remain unchanged with the new proposed Amendment 1.

Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote – every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote – non-citizens.

In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots.  Citizens Voters, Inc. claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in Alabama and those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with over $8,000,000 in dark money.

According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.

And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.

In Alabama, no individual citizens who are not United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.

Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens who a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.

The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protecting “every” citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the “every” citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?

Amendment 1 could allow the Alabama legislature to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens with a new law. Such a new Alabama law would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the State of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.

The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB 56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB 56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB 56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.

Alabama’s November 3, 2020 ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.

Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.

Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.

Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens who the legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.

Amendment 2 (Vote No)

Amendment 2 makes numerous small changes to the way the judiciary is organized. The text is 20 pages long. Amendment 2 mixes some good with at least one bad and mostly is neutral.

Amendment 2’s bad part changes when a judge is suspended after the Judicial Inquiry Commission (“JIC”) files with Court of the Judiciary a complaint for the judge’s having violated judicial canons. Today, such a judge is suspended upon the filing of the complaint, but still receives his or her salary while the matter is decided. Under Amendment 2, a judge found to have violated judicial canons is not suspended in most circumstances until after the matter is heard by Court of the Judiciary. Having JIC file a complaint against a judge is rare and historically has taken egregious conduct. Imagine an almost ousted judge’s potential actions while JIC’s complaint against him is pending.

Amendment 3 (Vote No)

Amendment 3 lengthens the time a judge appointed by a Governor serves before having to run for election. An appointed judge now serves and runs at the next general election that is at least one year from the appointment. Amendment 2 changes so an appointed judge serves until the next general election at least two years from the appointment. At this time, that favors Republicans, since we have a Republican Governor. In the future, that should favor Democrats. Amendment 3 allows a Governor to have more control over who are judges, which does not make sense if Alabama wants elected judges.

Amendment 4 (Vote yes)

I plan to vote yes on Amendment 4, my only yes vote for the six Alabama Constitutional Amendments on the November 3 ballot. Amendment 4 was initially proposed by Rep. Merika Colman and passed with the unanimous approval by Democrats and Republicans in both houses.

The Alabama Constitution has almost 1000 amendments. Alabama’s is by far the longest constitution in the world. It is about 50 times as long as the United States Constitution and about ten times as long as the average state constitution.

Amendment 4 provides for the legislature to recompile the Alabama Constitution, removing racist language, deleting superseded provisions, consolidating provisions by topic, and organizing local amendments by county. The revised draft would then be submitted to voters for approval.

Amendments 5 and 6 (Vote no)

These two amendments expand Alabama’s “stand your ground” laws to churches in Franklin and Lauderdale counties. As an initial matter, Alabama criminal law should not vary by county. In addition, these “stand your ground” laws change what was Alabama’s common sense self-defense law to create a shooter’s right not to be criminally prosecuted or civilly liable for shooting an individual if the shooter reasonably believed the individual shot would seriously harm the shooter or seriously harm another person. In other words, under these amendments, a shooter has a right to execute a stranger in church if the shooter is reasonably afraid the stranger is dangerous.

General

The Alabama Fair Ballot Commission is responsible for what is on an Alabama ballot for statewide voting. As provided in Ala. Code 17-6-81, the Commission has eighteen members, with former Judge and Dean John Carroll in 2020 serving as Chair.

Here is link to the Fair Ballot Commission’s work for Nov. 3, 2020 ballot and the six Alabama Constitutional Amendments.

Description of the six amendments by Ballotpedia

J.S. “Chris” Christie, Jr., works at Sirote & Permutt, PC, in its Birmingham, Alabama office. The Best Lawyers in America has listed him since 2005; From 1985-87, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching at the University of Yaoundé School of Law. In 2018, he was a Democratic candidate for Alabama Attorney General.

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5 thoughts on “Vote ‘NO’ Amendment #1 or risk perilous consequences”

  1. I think you are reading too much into this regarding Amendment 1. It is not removing any right, relax. Non-citizens shouldn’t have the right to vote, whether in national or local issues. And you like local control but you don’t like Amendment 4 where you argue counties shouldn’t have local control? I think you are simply a liberal who wants to make every decision for everyone else.

    1. When my children were teenagers, they complained that I was too conservative and the strictest parent, making too many decisions for them.

  2. I disagree Chris – Amendment 1 clarifies that you HAVE to be a citizen to vote. Also, your proposed solution of leaving “every citizen and only a citizen” is obviously contradictory and would lead to more confusion and misinterpretation.
    Your reasons to disagree with the amendment are weak at best and I don’t see how any citizens would use the EXCUSE they are disenfranchised by it. Major stretch

  3. Actually the only leverage “we the people” have toward getting something done with our embarrassing Alabama Constitution is to vote NO on every amendment until the “honorables” fix it or allows us to. If they can’t get their favorite amendments passed they will have to do something. If we have any other leverage i don’t know what it might be. Amendment 4 may be a start. Some form of “home rule” would be a good changed and would remove the necessity for so many “local” amendments.

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