Alabama Amendment 2

Ron Gunzberger:

[I]t sadly appears that some Alabama voters — actually, a majority of them — still wistfully pine for the days when blacks and white went to separate schools, rode on separate ends of the bus, and drank from separate water fountains. Amendment 2 on Tuesday’s ballot proposed cleaning up the state constitution by removing some long-unenforced segregationist provisions that mandated separate-but-equal segregated schools, authorized unconstitutional poll taxes to bar blacks from voting, and specified that Alabamians have no constitutional right to public education (giving the state the power to deny funding to any integrated schools). Governor Bob Riley (R) supported the amendment. On the other side was Riley’s likely 2006 primary opponent: ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Moore — who touts himself as “The Ten Commandments Judge” — led the opposition to the repeal, arguing it could open the door to tax hikes in order to improve the state’s public school system. The Alabama Christian Coalition also opposed the amendment, explaining that the group wanted “to ensure that reckless trial lawyers and activist judges will not be able to open the floodgates to increase taxes and that private, Christian, parochial and home-school families will be protected.” The “tax hike” argument appears to be a red herring, however, as the Alabama Supreme Court already ruled in 1993 that the “no constitutional right to public education” provision was unconstitution under the US Constitution. Out of 1.4 million votes cast statewide, Amendment 2 appears to have lost by 2,500 votes. However, the state will conduct an automatic recount.

Kristopher Vilamaa is saddened by the outcome as well.

A few prominent Republicans, including Roy Moore and John Giles, were able to convince over half the voters in Alabama that a provision to remove racist language that had already been ruled unconstitutional and moot was going to somehow affect their taxes.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Alabama, graduating high school and getting three degrees there. I didn’t follow this one at all but find the taxes argument compelling as an explanation for what happened here. Alabamians, more so than even other Americans, are deathly afraid of taxes. Also, many people (myself included when I lived there) reflexively vote against all amendments to the state’s horribly outdated Constitution as a protest vote, hoping to force a new convention.

Riley pretty much expended his political capital when he tried to ram through a massive tax reform proposal–out of the blue, having not mentioned it in his 2002 campaign for office–last year. Moore, sadly, remains wildly popular for his shameless pandering on the 10 Commandments issue.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    The word ‘pandering’ in your last para, suggests Moore really doesn’t beleive what he says on that issue.

    I’m not sure I get the same read.

  2. KipEsquire says:

    An interesting factoid you’re omitting is that Alabama has the longest state constitution in the nation:

    “Alabama’s constitution now has 743 amendments (including amendments dealing with bingo, mosquito control, catfish, soybeans, dead farm animals, beaver tails, and prostitution), while the national average is 116. The constitution itself is easily the longest in the nation and is 12 times longer than the typical state constitution.” Source.

  3. Sarah says:

    whoops, I didn’t mean to trackback you, guess it does that on it’s own. I’m new at this 😉

  4. McGehee says:


    With such a voluminous constitution, I have to wonder why Alabama bothers with statutes.

  5. dw says:

    My in-laws and I have talked about this quite a bit. They’re old-fashioned, evangelical Southern Baptists who hate the idiotic Bama constitution and wish Riley’s tax plan went through last year. What angered them the most was that the Christian Coalition ignored the BIBLE during this whole campaign. There are whole sections in the Book on God judging Israel/Judah on how they treat the poorest of the poor, and yet the CC wasn’t willing to tweak the taxes on the middle class one penny to fix a tax system that makes all the cries about regressive tax plans elsewhere seem cheap.

    Roy Moore will be the governor in 2006. What a shyster. Maybe someone can whisper in Charles Barkley’s ear that his time is now. Roy Moore vs. Charles Barkley in the GOP primary… that would be great theater.

  6. denise says:

    I know absolutely nothing about Alabama politics. I do know a little bit about school funding in Kansas.

    A district judge in Topeka has twice ruled unconstitutional the state’s school funding plans, first because funding for small school districts wasn’t as favorable as for large districts, then because medium-sized districts didn’t fair as well under the revised funding scheme as the small and large.

    This is all based on a state constitutional provision mandating “suitable” education for all Kansans, and this judge in essence said suitable requires equalized funding. (I don’t think it does. Just because someone has a Porsche, that doesn’t mean a Ford Taurus isn’t suitable transportation.)

    My point is: the tax issue is not necessarily a red herring. A state constitutional provision can be read quite differently by a judge than what the voters think they see on the ballot.

    I can’t blam Alabamans for treading lightly, and I can’t assume it’s racist reasoning. After all, that would be stereotyping, and that’s wrong, isn’t it?

  7. lunacy says:

    I’m in Mobile and I voted for the change. But I know these amendments never go through. My hope is that if they keep coming on the ballot, and folks keep voting for them, then eventually folks will decide it is time to rewrite our outdated constitution. I have friends who vote against such amendments because they too hope for a rewrite, reasoning that it’s already too complex and new amendment only adds to the complexity. Admittedly I’m not as knowledgable in state politics to speculate why we don’t rewrite. However, the notion that a bunch of old bigots or no-changers in Montgomery have too much power isn’t outside the realm of possibility. My theory is, when the up and comers gain more power, we’ll rewrite.

    As to Moore becoming governor…maybe I’m naive but I don’t think this will happen.


  8. I happen to live in Huntsville, Alabama, so I’ve been following this amendment closely… Er, at least ever since last week when I finally steeled myself to go see how many amendments we’d have to vote on this time, and what kind of crap would be in there.

    Our constitution is horrible. It’s not just the longest in the nation, it’s the longest in the world. Of the eight amendments on the ballot this year, four (yes, fully HALF) of them were specific to certain counties. Crenshaw County wants to change how much it pays its probate judge and the whole state has to vote on it – THAT’S how bad our constitution is.

    The specific text supposedly relating to education taxes is, in fact, “code word” text added in to the constitution in the 50s as a protest against desegregation. The text specifies that the consitutition shall not be construed as guaranteeing education to anybody. The amendment did not change this text to guarantee it to anybody, it just removed it. I guarantee you that the kind of conservative judges we elect around here would never interperet that as requiring that. And in any event, it’s a non-issue since we already have mandated public schooling for everybody under the age of 16, just like the rest of the nation.

    This text was added specifically in response to desegregation. It may look non-racist on the surface, but the clear intent of the day was to say, “We can’t send those niggers to their own schools? Well, we don’t have to teach ’em at all!”

    The amendment should have been passed as it was. Unfortunately, the Christian Coalition (of all people) ran a massive campaign to convince people it would raise their taxes. It’s a real disgrace to our state.

  9. Mick Miller says:

    I live in Northern Alabama (transplant) and followed the Amendments closely. I for one believe that the “additional” language added “after the fact” to Amendment 2 was in fact a “special agenda” and intended to be used down the road for hiking taxes WITHOUT a vote from the Taxpayers. IF it wasn’t there for that reason, then WHY was it added in the first place?
    If the Amendment had been “left alone” and had it been presented as it was originally written, to remove the segregationist language, it would have PASSED overwhelmingly!
    The crooked, sneaky b*stard that added to the amendment after-the-fact needs to be ousted from office!

  10. Scott says:

    I disagree strongly that the Amdt 2 vote indicates Alabama voter pine for segregation. Obviously half don’t, and clearly a large proportion of the other half were swayed by economic populist arguments, fueled by a frustration at historically crappy, ineffectual state government. The lengthy constitution is a cliche to “small government” conservatives, for reasons that have little to do with race. I argued here that Democrats have ceded these economic populism themes in the South going back the George Wallace American Independent Party insurrection. I don’t think liberals understand what’s happening to them in the South.

  11. catfish says:

    I also live in Alabama and I’ld like to second Russel’s comment. The language in the Constitution that dealt with schools was added in an attempt to remove desegregation. Alabama voters also approved an Amendment in the late 1990s that said something to the affect that legislators, not judges could require tax increases of any kind. This was in direct response to school equity suits that had been filed in previous years. The refusal to adequately educate our population is outrageous. Unfortunatly this amendment would have done nothing to remedy that.

    As far as the Alabama chapter of the Christian Coalition goes, it is not simply made up of low income populists. The president lives in the wealthy suburb of Mountain Brook (nothing wrong with living in Mountain Brook, but these people aren’t exactly rural salt of the earth types that people in other parts of the country assume).

  12. Jim says:

    I am so happy that Amendment Two was upheld and that the people of Alabama did not give in to the politically correct liberal agenda. I completely support former Judge Roy Moore and I certainly hope that he not only runs for Governor in two years, but of course wins. He truly represents the people of Alabama. Hell, I represent the people of Alabama better than Riley and I don’t even live there. Congratulations to Moore and the people of Alabama. I am proud of you. The people have spoken, now give it a rest.

  13. Felicia says:

    It’s fine for folks outside of Alabama to be a fans of Roy Moore but I DO live in Alabama and would appreciate it if one of ya’ll would offer him a job elsewhere and let us get back to the work of raising the state out of crushing poverty. Gov. Riley tried to restructure the horribly regressive tax structure and take the school system forward.

    The amendment in question was very much a Hell No! response to Brown v Board, when some cities and counties here chose to close their public schools entirely rather the desegregate.

    It was the back-up when the “voucher” proposal failed.

    I also love all the screaming about “unelected activist judges” in a state where all judges are elected in what are increasingly partisan contests.