Virginia Constitution

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Virginia Constitution
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The Constitution of Virginia is the basic governing document of the Commonwealth of Virginia.


The Virginia Constitution defines and limits the powers of the state government and the basic rights of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Like all other state constitutions, it is supreme over Virginia's laws and acts of government, though it may be superseded by the United States Constitution and U.S. federal law.

The current Constitution of Virginia consists of 12 articles and a schedule.[1]

Article I: Bill of Rights

Article I of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Bill of Rights" and consists of a preamble followed by 19 sections. It contains the entire original Declaration of Rights from the 1776 Constitution. However, several of the sections have been expanded to incorporate concepts from the United States Bill of Rights, including the right to due process, the prohibition against double jeopardy and the right to bear arms. Like the United States Constitution, the

Article II: Franchise and Officers

Article II of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Franchise and Officers" and consists of nine sections. It establishes the procedures and mechanisms for voting and holding office.

Article III: Division of Powers

Article III of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Division of Powers" and consists of one section. It confirms the principle of separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.

Article IV: Legislature

Article I of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Legislature" and consists of 18 sections. It establishes the basic structure and authority of the Virginia General Assembly. The legislative power of the state is vested in the Virginia General Assembly, which consists of the Virginia State Senate and the Virginia House of Delegates.

Article V: Executive

Article V of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Executive" and consists of 17 sections. It similarly defines the structure and powers of the executive branch. The Governor of Virginia is invested as the chief executive, though Section 1 of Article V, provides that the Governor may not run for successive terms. The offices of Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General are established as supporting elected constitutional positions.

The constitutional powers of the Governor include the ability to sign legislation, veto bills (which veto may then be overridden by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the assembly) and issue pardons.

Article VI: Judiciary

Article VI of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Judiciary" and consists of 12 sections. Article VI vests judicial power in the Supreme Court of Virginia, along with the subordinate courts created by the General Assembly. Judges are appointed by a majority vote in the General Assembly to terms of 12 years for Supreme Court Justices and 8 years for other judges. The Supreme Court, pursuant to Section 5, has the authority to make rules governing the practice of law and procedures in the courts of the commonwealth, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is established as the administrative head of the Virginia judicial system.

Article VII: Local Government

Article VII of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Local Government" and consists of ten sections. Article VII established the basic framework for the structure and function of local government in Virginia. Local government may be established at the town (population over 1,000), city (population over 5,000), county or regional government level. Article VII gives the General Assembly the power to create general laws for the organization and governing of these political subdivisions, except that regional governments cannot be created without the consent of the majority of the voters in the region.

Article VIII: Education

Article I of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Education" and consists of 11 sections. A compulsory and free primary and secondary public education for every Virginia child is the focus of Article VIII.

Article IX: Corporations

Article IX of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Corporations" and consists of seven sections. The primary purpose of Article IX is to create the Virginia State Corporation Commission, which is charged with administering the laws that regulate corporations. The State Corporation Commission also issues charters for Virginia corporations and licenses to do business for “foreign” (non-Virginia) corporations. Section 5 of Article IX prohibits such foreign corporations from doing anything in Virginia that a Virginia corporation could not do.

Article X: Taxation and Finance

Article X of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Taxation and Finance" and consists of twelve sections. Article X establishes the basic structure for taxation of personal property in Virginia. Pursuant to this article, all non-exempt real and personal property is subject to taxation at its fair market value. Section 6 sets out a lengthy list of exempt property, which includes church property, cemeteries and non-profit school property.

Article XI: Conservation

Article XI of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Conservation" and consists of four sections. Article XI states that it is the general policy of the Commonwealth to preserve, protect and conserve the state’s natural and historic resources. The General Assembly is permitted to further these policies by entering into public-private partnerships or partnerships with federal agencies.

A 2001 amendment added Section 4, which establishes hunting and fishing as constitutional rights of Virginians, though the legislature may enact appropriate regulations and restrictions on these rights.

Article XII: Future changes

Article XII of the Virginia Constitution is entitled "Future Changes" and consists of two sections. It establishes the mechanism for future changes to the constitution.

Amending the constitution

See also: Amending state constitutions and Article XII, Virginia Constitution

The Virginia Constitution can be amended via two different paths:

1. Through a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment as established in Section 1 of Article XII. These can be proposed in either house of the Virginia State Legislature. If a proposed amendment is approved by a simple majority vote in one session of the state legislature, it is automatically referred to the next session of the state legislature that occurs after the next general election of members of the Virginia House of Delegates. If in that second session the proposed amendment is "agreed to by a majority of all the members elected to each house" it is then placed before the state's voters. It can go on a special or general election ballot. If approved by a simple majority vote, it becomes part of the state's constitution.

2. Through a constitutional convention as established in Section 2 of Article XII. A convention can happen if the state's legislature "by a vote of two-thirds of the members elected to each house" calls a convention.


Virginia enacted its first constitution in 1776, in conjunction with the Declaration of Independence by the original thirteen states of the United States. In addition to frequent amendments, there have been six major subsequent revisions of the constitution (in 1830, 1851, 1864, 1870, 1902 and the one currently in effect, in 1971). These new constitutions have been part of and in reaction to periods of major regional, racial or social upheaval in Virginia.[2]

Virginia’s Constitution was the first written constitution adopted by the people’s representatives in the history of the world. Thus, Virginia had a functioning, permanent, Republican constitution one week before July 4, 1776 – the first in the colonies, the first in the world.[3] The Virginia constitution was a model for the governments of other states and most important, the national government of the United States.[4]

The 1830 constitution was the first revision to the state constitution, and helped adapt the 1776 framework to the logistics of running a government.[5]

The constitution of 1851 took significant steps in extending voting rights. In previous versions, only white male property holders could vote. With new revisions, all white men were eligible to vote.[6]

The 1864 constitution was written during the midst of the Civil War. When the majority of the state voted to secede from the Union, a group of dissenters set up an alternate, pro-Union government. Two of the most significant changes in the 1864 constitution were the abolition of slavery and the establishment of West Virginia as an independent state. However, these changes did not take effect until after the Civil War ended.[7]

The 1870 version of the Virginia Constitution marked the state's formal reintegration into the Union after the Civil War. Some changes to the constitution were directly affected by the Civil War and Reconstruction. For example, the constitution prohibited slavery, and provided the right to inherit property to the children of slaves who had not been allowed to legally marry.[8]

The Constitution of 1902 incorporated several new programs and rules that reflected the times. For one thing, the state created a state penitentiary and prison system as part of the social reform efforts of the Progressive Era (Article XI). New inventions, such as electricity and the telephone, prompted the Virginia General Assembly to create regulatory measures (Article VIII and Article XII).[9]

The 1971 constitution incorporated changes mandated by the Civil Rights movement, such as the federal Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. These historic pieces of legislation invalidated many of the segregation and Jim Crow voting requirements present in the 1902 constitution. The 1971 constitution also serves as the most recent constitution.[10] Nevertheless, there have been numerous amendments passed that alter specific sections of the constitution.

See also

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