A guide to the statewide constitutional amendments on the ballot in November 2020
In this November’s general election, voters will get to decide the fate of six statewide amendments to the Constitution of Alabama.
Yellowhammer News has prepared a guide to each statewide amendment and its impact on Alabama if enacted.
The six amendments mentioned will be on every ballot handed to an Alabamian on Election Day. Other local amendments may appear on the ballot in certain counties.
Statewide Amendment 1
How the first amendment will appear on the ballot:
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to amend Article VIII of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Section 177 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, to provide that only a citizen of the United States has the right to vote.
More directly, the Alabama constitution would be changed to say “only a” citizen of the United States who meets certain qualifications has the right to vote
It currently says “every” citizen of the United States who meets certain qualifications has the right to vote.
The change that would occur if Amendment 1 passes is primarily technical; legal scholars agree current Alabama law permits only citizens to vote. Proponents of the amendment say the change is a needed clarification.
Alabama Senate Pro Tem. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) sponsored Amendment 1, and it passed the upper chamber unanimously. Marsh told Yellowhammer News at the time that his goal was to “affirm” that only citizens can vote in Alabama’s elections.
Statewide Amendment 2
How the second amendment will appear on the ballot:
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to increase the membership of the Judicial Inquiry Commission and further provide for the appointment of the additional members; further provide for the membership of the Court of the Judiciary and further provide for the appointment of the additional members; further provide for the process of disqualifying an active judge; repeal provisions providing for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justices and appellate judges and the removal for cause of the judges of the district and circuit courts, judges of the probate courts, and judges of certain other courts by the Supreme Court; delete the authority of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to appoint an Administrative Director Courts; provide the Supreme Court of Alabama with authority to appoint an Administrative Director of Courts; require the Legislature to establish procedures for the appointment of the Administrative Director of Courts; delete the requirement that a district court hold court in each incorporated municipality with a population of 1,000 or more where there is no municipal court; provide that the procedure for the filling of vacancies in the office of a judge may be changed by local constitutional amendment; delete certain language relating to the position of constable holding more than one state office; delete a provision providing for the temporary maintenance of the prior judicial system; repeal the office of circuit solicitor; and make certain nonsubstantive stylistic changes.
The Fair Ballot Commission summarized in plain language the six primary changes that would be made by Amendment 2:
1. It provides that county district courts do not have to hold city court in a city with a population of less than 1,000.
2. It allows the Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the chief justice, to appoint the administrative director of courts.
3. It increases from nine to 11 the total membership of the Judicial Inquiry Commission and determines who appoints each member (the Judicial Inquiry Commission evaluates ethics complaints filed against judges).
4. It allows the governor, rather than the lieutenant governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary (the Court of the Judiciary hears complaints filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission).
5. It prevents a judge from being automatically disqualified from holding office simply because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission.
6. It provides that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.
Amendment 2 also changes the statutes governing Alabama’s constables; these changes are opposed by the Alabama Constables Association.
The amendment was sponsored by State Senators Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Cam Ward (R-Alabaster).
Amendment 2 is the result of work done by a task force comprised of legislators and members of the judicial branch of government.
Advocates for the amendment say it simplifies several administrative procedures that govern Alabama’s judicial system, which they argue is needed since many of the current procedures were written several decades ago and are no longer relevant.
Opponents of the measure argue that removing municipal courts from small towns with less than 1,000 residents will inconvenience the people who live there.
They also say that removing the legislature’s ability to impeach judges — the amendment makes the Judicial Inquiry Commission the only institution that can do so — takes away the ability of the people’s representatives to get rid of bad judges.
More information on what the Judicial Inquiry Commission is and what it does can be found here.
Statewide Amendment 3
How the third amendment will appear on the ballot:
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that a judge, other than a judge of probate, appointed to fill a vacancy would serve an initial term until the first Monday after the second Tuesday in January following the next general election after the judge has completed two years in office.
Most simply, the amendment would extend the time that judges who are appointed to fill an empty seat may serve.
If Amendment 3 is approved, appointed judges would run for reelection in the first general election after they have served two years in their appointed job.
Currently, appointed judges run in the first general election to occur after they have served for one year.
Tom Spencer of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) authored a report on the proposed amendments.
He noted with regards to Amendment 3, “This change might make it more attractive for nominees to accept a judicial appointment. At the same time, this change gives the appointee longer to build up the advantage of incumbency before running for a full term.”
Judgeships come open when a sitting judge dies, resigns, retires or is removed. The amendment would not apply to probate judges.
Amendment 3 was sponsored by State Representative David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) and co-sponsored by State Representative Matt Fridy (R-Montevallo).
Statewide Amendment 4
How the fourth amendment will appear on the ballot:
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to authorize the Legislature to recompile the Alabama Constitution and submit it during the 2022 Regular Session, and provide a process for its ratification by the voters of this state.
If Amendment 4 is passed, state legislators would have permission to rearrange the state constitution to do four things, per the Fair Ballot Commission:
1. Remove racist language.
2. Remove language that is repeated or no longer applies.
3. Combine language related to economic development.
4. Combine language that relates to the same county.
Only changes in those four categories could be made.
The proposed changes would be submitted during the 2022 legislative session for approval by both chambers of the legislature.
If the updated constitution is approved by the legislature, it would then be voted on by the people of Alabama in the 2022 general election.
Only if the legislature and the people of Alabama give the updated constitution their approval in 2022 would the changes become permanent. Amendment 4 could be thought of as permission for lawmakers and legislative staff to get started on the process.
As such, Amendment 4 will not affect how the state is governed; it only permits cosmetic changes and even those have to be approved by the public in two years.
Proponents say removing racist and redundant language is a worthy change to the state’s primary governing document.
Amendment 4 comes from a bipartisan place; it was sponsored by State Representative Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) and co-sponsored by State House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), among others.
Statewide Amendments Five and Six
How the fifth and sixth amendments will appear on the ballot:
Relating to Franklin County, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that a person is not liable for using deadly physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on the premises of a church under certain conditions.
Statewide Amendment 6 reads in full:
Relating to Lauderdale County, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that a person is not liable for using deadly physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on the premises of a church under certain conditions.
Both amendments would create special “stand your ground” laws for the churches in their respective counties.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall already interprets Alabama’s statewide “stand your ground” law as applicable to churches.
Local legislators in both Franklin and Lauderdale counties believe an additional measure stating the “stand your ground” law applies to churches in their counties is needed as a form of clarification.
The passage of Amendment 5 and Amendment 6 requires a majority of Alabama voters and a majority of the voters in the relevant counties.
The Fair Ballot Commission is an independent state entity that receives technical assistance from several agencies, but primarily the secretary of state’s office.
Sample ballots for each of Alabama’s 67 counties can be found here.
Yellowhammer received guidance from Jason Isbell, a lawyer in Montgomery and a member of the Fair Ballot Commission, in putting this guide together.