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- 1 Provisions of the current Arkansas Constitution
- 1.1 Preamble
- 1.2 Article 1: Boundaries
- 1.3 Article 2: Declaration of Rights
- 1.4 Article 3: Franchise and Elections
- 1.5 Article 4: Departments
- 1.6 Article 5: Legislative Department
- 1.7 Article 6: Executive Department
- 1.8 Article 7: Judicial Department
- 1.9 Article 8: Apportionment--Membership in General Assembly
- 1.10 Article 9: Exemption
- 1.11 Article 10: Agriculture, Mining and Manufacture
- 1.12 Article 11: Militia
- 1.13 Article 12: Municipal and Private Corporations
- 1.14 Article 13: Counties, County Seats and County Lines
- 1.15 Article 14: Education
- 1.16 Article 15: Impeachment and Address
- 1.17 Article 16: Finance and Taxation
- 1.18 Article 17: Railroads, Canals and Turnpikes
- 1.19 Article 18: Judicial Circuits
- 1.20 Article 19: Miscellaneous Provisions
- 1.21 Article 20: "Holford" Bonds Not to Be Paid
- 1.22 Schedule
- 1.23 Amendments
- 2 Amending the Constitution
- 3 History
- 4 See also
- 5 External links
- 6 Further reading
Provisions of the current Arkansas Constitution
- See also: Preambles to state constitutions
The Arkansas Constitution Preamble states:
Article 1 defines the physical boundaries of the state.
Article 2 extends to citizens the rights granted by the United States Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution, including the right to bear arms, the right to writ of habeas corpus and more.
Article 3 establishes that "elections shall be free and equal" and that "no power, civil or military, shall ever interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage." Parts of this article were superseded by the 39th Amendment. It also ensures that "no idiot or insane person shall be entitled to the privileges of an elector."
Article 4 stablishes the separation of powers. "The powers of the government of the State of Arkansas shall be divided into three distinct departments, each of them to be confided to a separate body of magistracy, to-wit: Those which are legislative, to one, those which are executive, to another, and those which are judicial, to another."
Article 5 discusses the operations of the Arkansas General Assembly. It provides that the Assembly shall meet biennially (Section 5) and limited to 60 days unless approved by 2/3rds of both houses (Section 17). Section 4 sets the qualifications for members.
Article 6 forms the executive offices of Arkansas government. This article was heavily revised by later amendments.
Article 7 forms the judiciary and was also heavily amended.
Article 8 establishes the two houses of the legislature, the General Assembly and Senate.
Article 9 creates exemption against the seizure of property, with specific provisions for widows and children.
Article 10 authorizes the Assembly to pass laws supporting Arkansas' agriculture, mining and manufacturing (including a seven-year abatement of all taxes on capital investment in such).
Article 11 establishes a state militia. "The militia shall consist of all able-bodied male persons, residents of the State, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years; except such as may be exempted by the laws of the United States, or this State; and shall be organized, officered, armed and equipped and trained in such manner as may be provided by law."
Article 12 delineates the liabilities of private companies.
Article 13 establishes the conditions for forming and changing the boundaries of counties.
Article 14 establishes a school fund for use in a free public school system.
Article 15 defines the conditions and procedures of impeachment. This article was amended by a 2000 referendum.
Article 16 establishes rules governing state funds and the taxes that may be levied.
Article 17 describes these modes of transportation.
Article 18 establishes the Judicial Circuits and states which counties are represented in each circuit.
Article 19 covers miscellaneous items.
Article 19, Section 1, titled "Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness", states: "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court."
It is commonly believed that Article Six of the United States Constitution bans such qualifications when it states, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This section has been rarely enforced, since it would almost certainly be thrown out if challenged in court.
Article 20, added by Amendment 1, prohibits the General Assembly from making appropriations for payment of principal and interest on several bond issues from 1869-1871, commonly referenced as "Holford" bonds, which were passed during Reconstruction by a Union-dominated General Assembly.
The Schedule provided for a transition between the current Constitution and the prior one.
In addition to the 20 Articles listed above, several amendments (87 as of July, 2013) have been added. Though some amendments have been physically incorporated into the text of the Constitution (like Amendment 1, adding Article 20), others remain physically separated from the text.
Notable amendments shown separately include:
- Amendment 34, which provides for the right to work (only Arizona, Florida, and Oklahoma have similar constitutional provisions).
- Amendment 46, which allows for horse racing pari-mutuel betting, but only in Hot Springs, the location of Oaklawn Park. (Interestingly, there is no similar constitutional amendment relating to dog racing, though Southland Greyhound Park operates in West Memphis.)
- Amendment 68, which states that "[t]he policy of Arkansas is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth, to the extent permitted by the Federal Constitution." This provision would allow Arkansas to restrict the practice of abortion in the event Roe v. Wade is ever overturned by the United States Supreme Court.
- Amendment 73, which places term limits on Arkansas officeholders (Section 3 also placed limits on Arkansas's Congressional delegation; similar provisions in other states were found to be unconstitutional; Section 4 placed a severability clause so the remainder of the amendment would remain in force).
- Amendment 83, which is Arkansas' Defense of marriage amendment.
Amending the Constitution
The current Constitution allows for two methods of amendment. However, each method is shown in a separate section.
Under Section 22 of Article 19, either house of the General Assembly may propose amendments. The amendment requires majority approval of both houses (in a recorded vote), publication in at least one newspaper in each county for six months prior to the next election of the Assembly, and majority approval of the voters.
However, the Section places further restrictions on legislative amendments;
- Each amendment must be separately placed on the ballot.
- No more than three amendments may be placed on any one ballot.
Amendment by Initiative
Under Section 1 of Article 5, ten percent of legal voters may propose an amendment by initiative, requiring majority approval of the voters. The proposed amendment must be filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State not less than four months before the election, and 30 days prior to the election the petitioners (at their own expense) must publish the amendment "in some paper of general circulation." Unlike with legislative amendments, there are no limits on the number of amendments by initiative that may be proposed on any one ballot.
In 1836, the state constitutional convention drafted a document to qualify Arkansas for statehood; this first constitution was brief, flexible, general in language and relatively lenient in terms of power. In 1861, the state needed a new constitution as it left the Union. Very few other substantive changes were made. In 1864, a third constitution was needed to bring Arkansas back into the Union. In 1868, the state adopted its constitution, which endured throughout the Reconstruction Era, with Arkansas being basically an administrative unit of the national government, overseen by federal officials. Then, finally, the current constitution in 1874 was written at the end of Reconstruction and was drafted to protect the people of the state from the government by limiting its powers. In the numerous attempts to revise or update the document in more than a century since, those issues have been discussed both in the proceedings of the conventions and in the campaigns on the proposed documents, all of which have been defeated.
The First Arkansas Constitution (1836)
The first constitution was brief, flexible and more closely modeled after the U.S. Constitution than later Arkansas constitutions were. For example, no salaries were set in the constitution, as later would be the case. Slavery was recognized, and emancipation required the consent of the owner. The governor, legislators, and county officials were elected by the people, while the secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, supreme and circuit court judges, and prosecuting attorneys were selected by joint legislative session. Governors, who would serve four-year terms, had to be at least thirty years of age and state residents for ten years. The constitution allowed all free adult white males to vote with no property or literacy restrictions, and the General Assembly was apportioned according to the free white male population.
The Second Arkansas Constitution (1861)
The first constitution remained in effect until Arkansas seceded from the Union on May 6, 1861. The new constitution was generally the same as the original, except for references to the Confederate States of America replacing references to the United States of America, a legal prerequisite to joining the Confederacy. The second constitution was ratified by the Secession Convention, chaired by David Walker of Fayetteville (Washington County), who had not favored secession.
The Third Arkansas Constitution (1864)
Arkansas’ third constitution was written under the terms of Abraham Lincoln’s plan for wartime reconstruction, which aimed to hasten the reestablishment of loyal state governments in the South. Federal recognition and financial support would come once only ten percent of those who had voted in the state in 1860 took an oath of allegiance to the Union. Adopted on January 19, 1864, and ratified on March 4, 1864, in an election supervised by Federal soldiers, it provided for a Unionist state government even while a Confederate one, now exiled to Washington (Hempstead County), continued to exist.
The 1864 constitution abolished slavery and repudiated secession but did not define the rights former slaves would enjoy. Also, this constitution, unlike that of 1836, provided for the popular election of secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and judges. It also created the office of lieutenant governor.
The Fourth Arkansas Constitution (1868)
Arkansas reentered the Union in 1868. The Reconstruction legislature ratified the new constitution on March 13, 1868, to begin the Reconstruction Era. Among other provisions, this constitution declared racial discrimination illegal, undertook to provide support for public education and for a university and fixed legislative apportionments to favor counties with large African-American populations. This constitution was written under the terms of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, by which Congress required former Confederate states to create new constitutions that allowed adult African-American males to vote. This constitution also greatly enhanced the power of the state government, especially the governor. Four-year terms were restored, and the governor was given broad power to appoint officials, including judges. This was necessary because the loyalty of many former Confederates was in question, so few of them were allowed to vote.
The Fifth (and Current) Arkansas Constitution (1874)
After Reconstruction, Arkansas adopted its current constitution in 1874 as a reaction against the centralized authority of the Reconstruction period. A Democratic majority replaced the Reconstruction legislature, which had been mostly Republican. A new state constitutional convention was called in 1874. It worked during most of the summer in a generally harmonious process. For the first time since the Civil War, the Democrats outnumbered the Republicans but remained civil, courteous and did not take some of the provisions as far as they could have. On October 13, 1874, the constitution was approved by the people in a special election by a three-to-one majority. Democrats swept the offices of governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor and attorney general, in addition to swelling their ranks in the Arkansas General Assembly.
Arkansans were generally distrustful of government after seeing such tempestuous times—from nominal military rule, to three years of civil war, to four years of civil government loyal to the United States, to a military regime under Federal generals and finally political reconstruction, six years of Republican rule and Democratic upheaval. Therefore, the 1874 constitution reflects a general suspicion of government and authority. The document incorporated more changes than any of the other constitutions in the state’s history, and most of these revisions were highly rural, restrictive and negative in nature. County governments became all powerful as administrative units of the state, with jurisdiction over roads and bridges, local judiciary and taxation as well as spending. The state’s powers to tax and borrow were severely limited, the terms of elected officials were reduced from four years to two years, the number of county officials was increased from two to ten and the legislative sessions were limited to sixty days every two years. The governor’s power was greatly reduced, so he could appoint far fewer officials. At the same time, vetoes could be overridden by a simple majority. Detailed provisions ensured that governmental power would not be misused and a great deal of authority transferred from state to local government.
Failed Constitutional Conventions
Several major attempts were made to replace the current document with a new constitution — in 1918, 1970 and 1980. The first convention after 1874 was during World War I in 1918, the sixth state constitutional convention. The proposed document included women’s suffrage, statewide prohibition and the creation of the lieutenant governor’s office, but it did not propose any changes in taxation or financing. The defeat came amid the war and a worldwide flu pandemic. In 1969–70, the seventh state constitutional convention met during the so-called “Young Turks” movement and the tenure of reform-oriented Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. A very progressive document was offered to the voters, but the campaign was dominated with discussions of taxation and government power, and voters rejected the document. In 1979–80, the eighth state convention worked hard on a new document that finally mirrored much of the convention of the previous decade, with an effort to steer the campaign debate, but the result was the same—rejection of the new document. The power to tax was central to each of the campaign debates on the new documents, and in each case, the providing of new flexibility and authority to state government and officials were the foundation of voter decision making. Each time, the voters narrowly rejected change.
During the 130 years since the current constitution’s adoption, eighty-three amendments have been adopted, covering issues and entities such as salary limits, tax limits, public finance, term limits, abortion, judicial process, paternity, states’ rights, gambling, voter registration, interest rates, county government reorganization, the Game and Fish Commission, the Highway Commission, workers’ compensation, filling vacancies (including board and commission appointments, as well as filling offices when incumbents, for any reason, can no longer continue in office), hospitals, industrial development and education.
- State constitution
- Constitutional article
- Constitutional amendment
- Constitutional revision
- Constitutional convention
- Cash, Marie. "Arkansas Achieves Statehood.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 2 (December 1943): 292.
- Goss, Kay C. (1993) The Arkansas State Constitution: A Reference Guide. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.
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