Witt: Is Kentucky’s constitution convoluted?

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The U.S. Constitution contains 7,591 words, including the original seven articles and 27 amendments.

That’s not a whole lot of words for a document that has guided this country for over two-and-a quarter centuries.  In fact, the original document, containing only the seven Articles, contained only about 4,500 words.

By contrast, the Kentucky constitution contains 20 articles comprising a total of 263 sections.

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Apparently no one has bothered to count the words in the Kentucky constitution yet, but it seems likely that those 263 sections probably contain at least 10 times the number of words in the U.S. version.

And although the state’s constitution has been amended numerous times, it is still the document that was last adopted in 1892.

Kentucky’s constitution was first adopted in 1792.  It was rewritten in 1799 (it only took seven years apparently for the legislature to become dissatisfied with it), 1850 and then in 1891.

Amendments to the state version are introduced in almost every session of the legislature and over one thousand amendments have been offered since 1892.

It is probably fortunate that so many of them have failed to make the cut.

To illustrate just how silly a good deal of the state’s constitution really is, consider:

Section 154 (1891) — The General Assembly shall prescribe such laws as may be necessary for the restriction or prohibition of the sale or gift of spiritous, vinous or malt liquor on elections days.

Spiritous?  Really?  Since vinous is included, would a devout person not be permitted a sip of sacramental wine on election days?

Section 240 (1891) — The Governor shall have power, after five years from the time of the offense, to pardon any person who shall have participated in a duel as a principal, second or otherwise, and to restore him to all the rights, privileges and immunities to which he was entitled before such participation.

It’s good to know that duelists can get their rights back if the governor chooses.  And notice that, apparently, women either could not get back those rights or were just not expected to engage in dueling, since person becomes him and he later in the article.

Thirty-two sections are listed as ‘Repealed’, much as the 21st amendment of the U.S. Constitution was a repeal of the 18th.

So many of the state’s constitutional sections proscribe what individuals, or corporations or companies may or may not do while the U.S. Constitution devotes a good deal of its content stipulating what the federal government and state governments can or cannot do to citizens.

And a good many of the sections of the state constitution go all the way back to 1891, without amendment, which certainly suggests that the document is long overdue for a major revision.

Of course, few people would like to see dueling become either legal or prevalent again, but judicial laws govern that, as it does so much else that may be included in the constitution.

The current problem is, however, with so much dissension between the two major parties, it’s hard to believe that any attempt to re-write the state constitution would ever result in something either logical or tailored to be fair to all of Kentucky’s citizens, nor would a re-write likely result in proscribing what state government can do as opposed to spelling out what the people can or can’t do.

The Kentucky constitution is an interesting document and a lot like reading history.  Try reading it sometime, especially when you are having a hard time getting to sleep.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.