Haiku For Election Season 2018
Louisianans! Do you wonder why it seems as though at every election you find you must make decisions about some constitutional amendment or other? Professor John Devlin of the Louisiana State University Law Center offers this explanation for the plethora of these choices, which only you, as a registered Louisiana voter, can make.
When Americans think of a “Constitution,” they tend to envision a document like the Constitution of the United States, which does little more than establish the various organs of the federal government and delineate their competencies in very general terms. Other than providing protection for certain individual rights, the national Constitution does not mandate particular choices among competing policy preferences. Instead, those choices are left to the ordinary political process.
In contrast, most state constitutions include a great deal of detail, intended by those who drafted them to enshrine particular sets of policy choices. The current Louisiana constitution — this state’s eleventh constitution, which went into effect in 1974 – follows this pattern. Thus, for example the Louisiana Declaration of Rights, La Const. Art. I, sec. 17, does not just guarantee the right to a jury in a criminal trial. Instead it specifies how many jurors must concur in order to convict, depending on the punishment to be inflicted (see for example Mr. Newman’s Haiku #2, below). Similarly, Article VII, sec. 14(B) of the Louisiana constitution describes in detail how local governments may deal with public property. And, perhaps most importantly, several provisions of the Louisiana constitution limit the legislature’s discretion to allocate funds, by establishing dedicated “trusts” that can only be used for specific purposes. Because the state constitution mandates such specific policy choices, those policies can only be changed by a constitutional amendment, approved by the voters.
Having trouble understanding just what you’re voting on among all those state constitutional amendments November 6? New Orleans citizen-poet David Newman offers us a short course in the form of haiku below.
Copyright David Newman 2018. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Turning the verbiage of state constitutional amendments and propositions and local measures on the ballot has been the passion of citizen-creatives for several years now. Station KPBS highlighted the work of some California versifiers and songwriters in 2016 at this link.