Voters likely have a clear idea of which candidates they want to cast their ballots for, but deciding to voting “yay” or “nay” on the six constitutional amendments on the ballot may be a bit more difficult.
The Times sat down with attorney Champ Crocker, president of the Cullman Bar Association, to better understand the amendments. Voters can also go to the Alabama Secretary of State’s website at sos.alabama.gov/alabama-votes for plain language descriptions of the amendment.
Amendment One would change the wording of the constitution from “every” U.S. citizen has the right to vote to “only” U.S. citizens have the right to vote. Crocker said the amendment does not change who can vote and the author of the amendment, Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), has said the amendment “sends a message to Washington.”
“Whether it is passed or not, it does not appear on its face to change the basic requirement that you have to be a citizen in order to vote,” said Crocker.
This amendment changes how the court system operates in several ways. First, it would change who appoints the Administrative Director of the Courts. Currently, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court makes the appointment, but if the amendment passes, all nine justices would appoint the director.
“There have been five Chief Justices in the past 10 years,” said Crocker. “I think the intent is to provide more continuity in that position, rather than it being a political appointee.”
Another thing Amendment Two does is add two members to the Judicial Inquiry Commission, going from nine to 11 members. Crocker explained that the Judicial Inquiry Commission works like a grand jury. “They field complaints about judges,” he said.
The Court of the Judiciary is the body that then hears complaints and acts like a trial court. If Amendment Two is approved by voters, the governor - rather than the lieutenant governor - would get to appoint one of the members of the Court of the Judiciary.
Amendment Two would also end automatic disqualification of a judge just because a complaint was filed against him or her with the Judicial Inquiry Commission, and makes it so only the Court of the Judiciary can remove a judge from office.
Currently, the Alabama Legislature can impeach judges - similar to how Congress can impeach federal judges - but this amendment would end that practice in Alabama.
Amendment Three also involves the judicial branch. This amendment would change the terms of office for judges appointed to fill a vacancy.
Currently, judges appointed to a vacant seat serve one year or until the next election, whichever is longer. With elections every two years, “They serve one year and then they’re in the next election,” said Crocker.
If this amendment passes, judges appointed to fill a vacancy would serve two years before being required to run for the seat. “A judge who is appointed by the governor could be on the bench two, two-and-half, three years before facing the voters,” said Crocker.
Amendment Four would allow the 2022 Alabama Legislature to draft a new state constitution that removes racist language, combines sections related to economic development and removes repetitive language. A majority of voters would then have to ratify the new constitution.
Crocker said there have been similar referendums that failed, but the author of the amendment, Merika Coleman (D-Pleasant Grove), “said she believes people may be paying more attention now, so that’s why it was brought back up.”
Amendments Five and Six
The last two amendments deal with the same topic - the Stand Your Ground Law and how it applies to churches. Crocker noted that Stand Your Ground has been a law in Alabama for more than a decade and allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves or others as long as they are not engaged in an illegal activity, have a right to be where they are and are not the ones who initiated the attack.
The amendments define that the Stand Your Ground law would apply to churches in Franklin and Lauderdale counties only.
Crocker said amendments, and similar legislation that did not pass, have drawn the opposition of some Second Amendment groups who say the Stand Your Ground law already applies to churches.
“Churches were not excluded from the Stand Your Ground law when it was passed,” he noted, which is why opponents to the amendment say Amendments Five and Six are “unnecessary.”