Chapter Study Outline

Functions of a State Constitution

  1. State constitutions make state political institutions legitimate by defining and delegating power and authority.
  2. State constitutions also prevent the concentration of power and generally provide for a system of checks and balances.
  3. State constitutions prohibit governments from abridging the basic freedoms of its citizens.

Similarities and Differences between the U.S. and Texas Constitutions

  1. The two constitutions are similar in that they provide for a separation of powers, checks and balances, and a bill of rights.
  2. The concept of federalism is also embodied in both documents.
  3. The U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause and necessary and proper clause distinguish the federal constitution from its state counterpart.

Historical Foundation for the Current Texas Constitution

  1. Texans have been governed under seven constitutions, each shaped by historical development of its time.
  2. The first constitution for Texas was the Mexican Constitution of Coahuila y Tejas (1827).
  3. The second was the Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836), which was written when Texas declared its independence from Mexico. It established an elected chief executive with considerable powers, a bicameral legislature, and a four-tiered judicial system composed of justice, county, district, and supreme courts.
  4. The third constitution was the Texas State Constitution (1845), which was written when Texas was admitted to the union.
  5. In 1861, Texas withdrew from the union, joined the Confederate States of America (i.e., the Confederacy), and drafted its fourth constitution.
  6. The fifth constitution—the Constitution of 1866—was written upon readmission to the Union after the Civil War.
  7. The sixth constitution—the Constitution of 1869—was written during Reconstruction. It empowered E. J. Davis, who is believed to have presided over the most corrupt and oppressive government in Texas history.
  8. The seventh and final constitution—the Constitution of 1876—was drafted primarily by members of the Grange, in opposition to the Reconstruction government. It embodies a strong anti-government sentiment.

The Constitution of Texas Today

  1. The Texas Constitution was written to prevent the expansion of governmental authority and to avoid the return of any political power that acted against the interests of the people.
  2. The U.S. Constitution has two great virtues: brevity and flexibility. Neither of these virtues could be said to characterize the Texas Constitution. The differences are a direct reflection of the differences in the framers’ underlying goals.
  3. The framers of the Constitution of 1876 placed a bill of rights in Article I—clearly announcing the document’s purpose was to restrict governmental power. This document included many protections not found in the U.S. Bill of Rights.
  4. The Texas Constitution also establishes a separation of powers, which is intended to limit the powers of the three branches of government.
  5. The Texas legislature consists of the House of Representatives, with members serving two-year terms, and a Senate, with four-year terms. Legislative salaries are low, and a balanced budget is required.
  6. The Texas governor is part of a plural executive, meaning he or she is among a number of key executive officials who are also elected by the voters. The governor’s powers are extremely limited in this model, making the office one of the weakest in the nation.
  7. Texas judges are elected by the voters, subjecting them to constant review by the public.
  8. Constitutional amendments are drafted by the legislature, but must be approved by the voters of the state.

Recent Attempts to Rewrite the Texas Constitution

  1. Over the past thirty years, there have been a number of attempts to streamline the political system by rewriting the Texas Constitution.
  2. The most recent attempts occurred in 1974 and 1999.
  3. These attempts to rewrite the Texas Constitution tried to strengthen Texas’s government and to make changes in the operation of state government.
  4. Texans, however, have rejected these attempts, partly out of a fear that an improved government will mean higher taxes.

2011 Amendments to the Texas Constitution

  1. In November 2011, voters passed seven of the ten constitutional amendments they were asked to consider. Only approximately 5.2 percent of registered voters turned out to vote.
  2. Most of the 2011 proposed constitutional amendments were uncontroversial. The controversial ones were those identified by the Tea Party and other antitax groups as increasing the financial burden on Texans. These groups succeeded in defeating three of the proposed amendments, breaking the modern pattern in which amendments are routinely approved.
  3. Highly visible, controversial amendments, such as previously proposed propositions concerning tort reform and same-sex marriage, can lead to higher turnout.

Conclusion: Thinking Critically about the Texas Constitution

  1. Texas’s current constitution is far more complex than its predecessors or the U.S. Constitution.
  2. Matters considered public policy in most other states are often addressed as constitutional issues in Texas.
  3. The Texas Constitution is based on a general distrust of politicians and political power.
  4. In limiting and decentralizing power, the Texas Constitution makes it difficult to exercise power effectively without being able to maintain extraordinary majorities in a variety of political arenas.
  5. The Texas Constitution has been a difficult document to replace, despite 474 amendments.
  6. The Texas Constitution provides protections for the interests of key groups in Texas society; those groups are reluctant to give up those protections in exchange for a more flexible document.