Steps to Build a Model Louisiana Constitution
Louisiana’s 1974 constitution has outlived its usefulness. Since its ratification more than forty years ago, the Louisiana constitution has more than doubled its size through the amendment process. It contains over 72,000 words and voters have approved 203 amendments to date. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1789 and provides a framework of government for a nation, contains 7,500 words and has only been amended twenty-seven times in 233 years.
The current constitution is one of the longest and most complex in the country. It is an obstacle to personal freedom, economic growth, and competitiveness. The document memorializes issues, particularly budget matters, best left to statute. Restrictions in Louisiana’s Constitution significantly limit the ability of legislators to address the budgetary challenges facing the state today.
We wrote A Principled Pathway to a Model Louisiana Constitution to provide clear reasoning and a recipe for a successful convention that would allow Louisiana to transition to a functional constitution built around protecting individual rights. This report delves into a brief history of constitutional reform movements in Louisiana, explores how they mirrored those of the nation, then outlines principles of a model constitution that point the way toward the next generation of constitutional reform in Louisiana.
A model constitution for Louisiana adheres to the following principles of American constitutionalism:
- Governments are created and sustained by the consent of the governed, the sovereignty of the people, with individual rights as the foundation. The “inalienable rights” recognized in our founding documents are rooted in the idea of the inherent dignity of people and respect for individuals’ ability to choose for themselves their form of government and their representatives.
- Brevity and Clarity. A constitution is not a super-statute: founders have long recognized the value of clarity and brevity in the crafting of a fundamental law. Brevity ensures that over-detail does not hamper the flexibility that future leaders will need to deal with the unforeseen problems. Clarity proves critical because constitutional words are a contract binding on future generations that lawmakers and executives swear an oath to defend.
- The Founders of the American constitutional system focused extensively on the proper structure of government, including separation of powers. While the structure of the federal constitution provides for the separation of powers with mechanisms of checks and balances, the structure of the Louisiana Constitution, as set forth in Article II, does not formally provide for checks and balances among the three branches of government; it simply contains a basic statement of commitment to the separate “Distribution of Powers.”
- Rights and Judicial Review. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the federal constitution is the baseline for the protection of rights, not their zenith. Thus, Louisiana voters retain the authority to expand the protection of rights afforded by the federal constitution. Judicial articles in state constitutions should be structured to hold the judiciary accountable to the public and to the law and to ensure the efficient administration of justice, as well as to preserve the autonomy of the branch from the influence of the executive and legislative branches as well as from special interests and shifting public sentiment.
- Amendability and Reform. The power to change is the power to survive. All American constitutions contain within them the power of amendment.
Constitutional reform in Louisiana can provide a pathway to a state government that fosters liberty, economic growth, and positive policy reform. Further, it could be a model for other states interested in becoming freer, fairer, and more effective.