Vail Daily column: The Colorado Constitution
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a series.
Few would argue that the Colorado Constitution is anything but unruly. Drafted in March of 1876, it was ratified by the voters in July 1876 and took effect a month later when Colorado became a state. The constitution includes a preamble and 29 articles (most with sections and subsections). Needless to say, it has, like America’s waistline, expanded considerably in the last 150 years.
Unlike many other states that have jettisoned the old and adopted whole new constitutions from time-to-time, the Colorado Constitution is the one that “brung” us to the dance. Notwithstanding its inflation over the years, it is the only constitution the state has ever had. It consists of a whopping 29 articles and a “schedule.”
To burnish your spurs a little, the Colorado Constitution goes a stretch farther than the U.S. Constitution in the protections it affords free speech. Whereas the U.S. Constitution does nothing more than bar lawmakers from enacting rules “abridging the freedom of speech,” the Colorado goes a mite father, spelling out a citizen’s right to “speak, write or publish whatever he will on any subject.”
The Colorado Constitution also takes an affirmative stand against racial discrimination, guaranteeing education to all, regardless of skin color. Coming close on the heels of the Civil War, taking such a stand was nothing if not shockingly progressive.
On the flip side, the constitution as originally crafted, did not give women the right to vote. That privilege would have to wait several decades for the thundering freight train that was the suffragettes.
The preamble provides in full, “We, the people of Colorado, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, in order to form a more independent and perfect government; establish justice; insure tranquility; provide for the common defense; promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Colorado.”
If I were to devote a detailed series to the Colorado Constitution, as I recently did for the U.S. Constitution, we’d be at this for a very, very long time. Best, instead, to summarize in just a couple of parts and leave you to your own devices to delve in more deeply should curiosity so stir you.
’Nuff said. Let’s start.
ARTICLES 1 THROUGH 9
Article 1 establishes the boundaries of the state; here, not there, comprises Colorful Colorado. I’d recite it to you but unless you were a surveyor, it would likely bore you; it is all meridians, latitudes, longitudes and such. Suffice it to say that if you’re here, congratulations, God has smiled on you.
Before I get on to Article 2, a note here — the Colorado Constitution employs the highfalutin device of Roman numerals. For simplicity’s sake throughout this series, I will default instead to the more familiar Arabic numerals and pay whatever penance must be paid for my apostasy.
Article 2 is sort of a big deal in that it contains the Bill of Rights for citizens of this state. It is, in turn, comprised of 31 sections (counting Sections 16 and 16a, and 30, 30a and 30b each as single sections).
Some of the inalienable rights include the right of the people to abolish the form of government, the right of religious freedom, the right to equal justice, freedom from unlawful seizures of property, the aforementioned freedom of speech, no imprisonment for debt, the right to bear arms, the rights to assemble and to due process of law, a prohibition against slavery, equality of the sexes (adopted in 1972), and … oops, the 2006 addition defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.
You’ll note I included a couple of dates to show that the article has evolved over the sesquicentennial that has passed since its first adoption. Some stuff is old and some is new. And together they comprise the fundament and basic rights inherent of citizenship of the Centennial State.
Article 3 declares that the state government shall be divided into three distinct divisions: the legislative, executive and judicial. Easy peasy. Like Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Articles 4, 5, 6 are the faithful companions to Article 3 and establish the powers and limitations of, respectively, the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the state.
Article 7 deals with suffrage and elections. “Suffrage” is, by the way, wholly distinct from “sufferage,” the latter connoting the experience of pain and the former, more happily, the right to vote. One of the 12 sections of Article 7 is tantalizingly titled “purity of elections.” Ah … yeah. Section 5 interestingly provides that “Voters shall in all cases, except treason, felony or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at elections, and in going to and returning therefrom.” Whew!
A bit mundane, Article 8 describes state institutions, such as the seat of government and its location. Denver. Duh. But what’s interesting is this little tidbit, “The general assembly shall have no power to change or to locate the seat of government of the state, which shall remain at the city and county of Denver.”
Nine provides that public education in this state shall be free. This article consists of seven sections, more than 3,600 words and, to say the least, is complicated. There are provisions related to funding; those related to superintendence of the schools; one forbidding race, religious, and sectarian discrimination in public education; one forbidding aid to private or religious schools; a section mandating compulsory education; and a host of others. Are you listening, Texas? Section 16 provides that “neither the general assembly nor the state board of education shall have power to prescribe textbooks to be used in the public schools.” More than many, Article 9 has stirred passion, head scratching and debate.
In the next part of this series, on to Article 10 as we work our way through what is the tangle of the State of Colorado’s founding, tortured and oft confounding blueprint of governance and community.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.