Utah Constitution

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Utah Constitution
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The Utah Constitution [1] is a document that defines the basic form and operation of government of the U.S. state of Utah. A constitutional convention consisting of 95 delegates met from March 4, 1895 to May 7, 1895 to develop the state's original constitution, which is still largely in force.[2]


The Utah Constitution was drafted at a convention that opened on March 4, 1895 in Salt Lake City. The constitution was later approved by the citizens of Utah.[3]

Utahns had drafted seven previous constitutions starting in 1849 as part of repeated attempts to become a state. However, Congress refused to admit Utah, or Deseret as the territory originally wanted to be called, until the Mormon settlers of Utah renounced polygamy.[4]


The Utah Constitution consists of a preamble followed by 22 articles.(Last revised by the State of Utah: May 03, 2012)

Amending the constitution

Delegates to the 1895 convention
See also: Amending state constitutions and Article XXIII, Utah Constitution

The Utah Constitution can be amended in these two ways:

Via the legislatively-referred constitutional amendment process:

  • An amendment can be proposed in either chamber of the Utah State Legislature.
  • A two-thirds vote is necessary in the state legislature to place a proposed amendment before the state's voters.
  • Votes on proposed amendments must take place at general elections.
  • If more than one proposed amendment is on a ballot, the amendments must be placed on the ballot in such a way that voters can register their opinion on them separately.

Via a constitutional convention:

  • A ballot question about whether to hold a convention can go on the ballot if two-thirds of the members of the state legislature vote to put it on the ballot.
  • Votes on whether to hold conventions must go on a general election ballot.

Whether a proposed amendment is offered by the state legislature or comes out of a convention, Section 3 of Article XXIII requires a vote of at least a "majority of the electors of the State voting at the next general election." This means that more voters can vote "yes" on a particular amendment than "no" and it still might lose, depending on how many voters altogether vote in that election.

Noteworthy provisions

Greater individual protections under the Utah Constitution:

Beginning with Hansen v. Owens, 619 P.2d 315 (Utah 1980), the Utah Supreme Court embarked upon a short-lived venture during which the court interpreted Article I, § 12 of the Utah Constitution as providing greater protection against self-incrimination than that which is provided by the Fifth Amendment. The Hansen decision was based upon the unique language of Article I, § 12, which speaks in terms being compelled "to give evidence against [one]self" rather than being compelled "to be a witness against [one]self." A mere five years later the court retreated from this position and in American Fork City v. Crosgrove, 701 P.2d 1069 (Utah 1985), overruled Hansen. This, however, did not put an end to the notion that the Utah Constitution may provide greater protection than does the federal Bill of Rights.

It is now clear that Article I, § 14 of the Utah Constitution provides greater protection to the privacy of the home and automobiles than does the Fourth Amendment. See State v. Debooy, 2000 UT 32, ¶12, 996 P. 2d 546, 549, and State v. Larocco, 794 P.2d 460 (Utah 1990). Interestingly, the expansion of the protection afforded by the state constitution has not been based upon distinctions in the language used, nor has it been the result of Utah’s unique political and religious history. The Utah Supreme Court has embraced broader constructions as “an appropriate method for insulating this state’s citizens from the vagaries of inconsistent interpretations given to the fourth amendment by the federal courts.” State v. Watts, 750 P.2d 1219 (Utah 1988).

The Utah Supreme Court has repeatedly invited litigants to raise and adequately brief state constitutional issues. See Kenneth R. Wallentine, Heeding the Call: Search and Seizure Jurisprudence Under the Utah Constitution, Article I, Section 14, 17 J. Contemp. L. 267 (1991). In Brigham City v. Stuart, 2005 UT 13, ¶10, 122 P. 3d 506, 510, the Utah Supreme Court expressed “surpris[e]” in “[t]he reluctance of litigants to take up and develop a state constitutional analysis,” ibid., the court expressly invited future litigants to bring challenges under the Utah Constitution to enable it to fulfill its “responsibility as guardians of the individual liberty of our citizens” and “undertak[e] a principled exploration of the interplay between federal and state protections of individual rights,” id., at 511. See Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. (2006), (Stevens, J., concurring).

The original and current editions of the constitution have some unusual or unique provisions:

  • Originally, a jury was to be eight people at most (Unless it was a capital offense), seven for a grand jury and 4 for inferior courts.
  • In addition to the normal right concerning people accused and tried to not be required to incriminate themselves, spouses are allowed to "take the Fifth" when their partners are on trial.
  • Possibly as a result of impressions of Mormonism, an ordinance was added which required the consent of the United States (Presumably the Federal Congress) as well as the state's to revoke or alter. In part:
    • Besides the normal (And previously stated) freedom of religion, polygamy and "plural marriages" are "forever prohibited."
    • Public schooling is required and must be "free from sectarian control."
      • This is stated TWICE, once in the Ordinance, and once in Article X ("Education").
  • Women's suffrage and equality is guaranteed in all matters.
  • Voting machines (referred to as "mechanical contrivance[s]") are allowed provided they be secret.
  • No legislator can become an officer if the office was created, or salary changed, during his term.
  • Once an impeachable official is served a notice of their impeachment, they automatically lose their powers of office until acquitted.
  • A two thirds supermajority is required to specify the enactment of an act at a time other than the default.
  • Lotteries under any form are banned, despite the fact that one is needed to select the senatorial classes after the first election.
  • The Governor may call the whole legislature or just the Senate into extraordinary session, but not the House of Representatives by itself.
  • The Governor, Attorney-General with the Auditor comprise the Board of Prison Commissioners and Insane Asylum Commissioners, with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Board of Reform School Commissioners.
  • No Judge can appoint a relative closer than a cousin to his court.
  • A judge out of state for more than 90 days running automatically loses his bench.
  • The article on public education makes some interesting requirements, including:
    • The requirement that there be an Agricultural College.
    • That the Legislature and State Board of Education are forbidden from selecting the textbooks to be used.
    • That the schools of the State teach the metric system, Article X § 11 (repealed [1]).
  • Corporations running prior to the adoption of the constitution had to explicitly agree (by filing an affidavit with the Secretary of State) to the new constitution.
  • No one may bring an "armed ... bod[y] of men" into the state without approval.
  • Labor blacklisting is explicitly outlawed.
  • The constitution has a balanced budget requirement built in, preventing the expenditures overhauling the revenue.
  • Certain restrictions on labor are introduced:
    • Women are prohibited from working in mines
    • Prison labor is prohibited outside of the prison, unless it's for public work projects with the State.
    • Not only are blacklists prohibited, so is their exchange!
    • When working on public works, eight hours is a full day.
  • Forests of the state get a one section article (XVIII) requiring they be preserved.
  • Besides the state capitol, the location of the state fair, special schools, state prison, reform school, and insane asylum are explicitly set down, and "permanently located."
  • When voting for or against the draft constitution, voters were to be given a ballot with both "yes" and "no." They then had to erase the word they disagreed with (EG. Erase "no" to vote "yes").

External links


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