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Constitution of Arkansas

The Constitution of the State of Arkansas is the governing document of the U.S. state of Arkansas. It was adopted in 1874, shortly after the Brooks-Baxter War, replacing the 1868 constitution that had allowed Arkansas to rejoin the Union after the conclusion of the American Civil War; the new constitution and the Brooks-Baxter War marked the end of Reconstruction in Arkansas, two years before the disputed 1876 presidential election ended it completely. Adopted toward the end of Reconstruction, the new constitution provided a transition period between it and its predecessor.


First Constitution

In 1833, the Territory of Arkansas was eager to be admitted as a state, although Congress was hesitant to admit another pro-slavery state due to the tense equality levied by the Missouri Compromise. Nonplussed, the territory elected delegates for a state constitution convention. Territorial governor, William Fulton tried to halt the convention, but Attorney General, Benjamin F. Butler ruled assemblage legal. The first state constitution was ratified by congress on January 30, 1836, and on June 15 of that year, president Andrew Jackson signed the act making Arkansas the 25th state.

Secession and Re-entering the Union

The first constitution was vague and short. It was replaced by the second Arkansas state constitution when Arkansas seceded from the Union on May 6, 1861. This constitution was very similar to the original except for its references to The Confederate States of America.

When Arkansas re-entered the union, they were required to ratify a new constitution. They did this on March 18, 1864. This constitution stipulated that federal recognition and support would resume after ten percent of 1860 voters took the oath of allegiance to the union. Slavery was abolished in this constitution, but no mention of former-slaves rights was included. The purpose of this constitution was to hurry reconstruction and return power to local governments as quickly as possible. This was the first constitution to define election procedures for a number of important posts within the state government.

When Arkansas finally re-entered the union in 1868, it was under yet another constitution, this one created and ratified by the reconstruction legislature rather than by the state elected government. This constitution made racial discrimination illegal and provided for public education and a state university. This constitution was much more formal and powerful than previous editions. It was also heavily skewed towards counties with a large African-American population.

Current Version

The fifth and current constitution was adopted in 1874. When Democrats regained the majority for the first time since the Civil War, they spent a summer re-writing the constitution. This version reflects the emotions resulting from the previous twenty years of turmoil. Arkansans were, by now, suspicious of any military authority, and purposely put enormous power in the hands of county governments. This included legal issues, transportation, taxation and spending. The power of the governor was significantly curtailed. State officials' terms were dropped from four years to two years, and fewer officials could be appointed by the governor.[1] This is the constitution that the state uses today, with some 87 amendments and various other changes.

Subsequent Efforts

In addition to the five Constitutional Conventions that resulted in new State Constitutions, Arkansas also had Constitutional Conventions in 1918, 1969, and 1979, called the Sixth, Seventh, and Eight Constitutional Conventions respectively. However none of the resulting proposals were ratified.[2]



We, the People of the State of Arkansas, grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government; for our civil and religious liberty; and desiring to perpetuate its blessings, and secure the same to our selves and posterity; do ordain and establish this Constitution.

Article 1- Boundaries

This article establishes the boundaries of Arkansas as running from the Mississippi river on the east to the Oklahoma and Texas borders on the west, and bound by Missouri in the north and Louisiana in the south. This article also defines the seat of government as being in Little Rock.

Article 2- Definition of Rights and Power

For the most part, this article affirms the same limits to the State Government that are similarly constrained by the US Constitution to the Government of the United States.

One interesting note, Section 26 states that no religious test shall be applied as a requirement to vote or hold office, yet later on in the constitution Atheists are expressly forbidden from holding office.

Article 3- Elections

Article 3 mandates that all elections shall be fair and equal. No person shall be denied the right to vote. Any resident citizen over the age of 18 may register and vote. Electors are exempt from arrest while they are traveling to and from elections. Soldiers may not vote on the basis of being stationed in Arkansas, they must establish residency through other means.

Article 4- Branches of Government

This article states that there will be 3 branches of government, legislative, judicial, and executive.

Article 5- Legislative

Article 5 provides for the operations of the Arkansas General Assembly. It requires the Assembly to meet biennially (Section 5) and limits these meetings to 60 days unless otherwise approved by two-thirds of both houses (Section 17). Section 4 sets the qualifications for members. Amendment 86 allows for biennial fiscal sessions in even-numbered years; these sessions are limited to legislative deliberation regarding the state budget, though other issues may be brought before the houses via approval of a two-thirds vote of the membership.

Section 1 allows for passage of laws or constitutional amendments by initiative. Petitions require signatures equal to eight percent of registered voters to appear on the ballot for a law, or ten percent for a constitutional amendment (see below). Section 1 also allows, by six percent of voters placing a petition, for a statewide referendum on any law or any part of a law. The petition must be filed no later than 90 days after final adjournment of the Assembly. The law is suspended until it is voted on in the next election; if part of a law, the portion subject to referendum is suspended while all other provisions remain in effect.

It also includes highly restrictive provisions regarding appropriations:

  • Section 38 requires, in order to raise "property, excise, privilege or personal taxes", either 1) approval of the voters or 2) a three-fourths majority of the legislature. However, since the sales tax is not shown in the listing (it was added after passage of the Constitution[clarification needed]), it can be increased by a simple majority.
  • Section 30 requires that the "general appropriations bill" be limited to the "ordinary expenses of the executive, legislative, and judicial departments of the State". All other appropriations must be passed by special appropriations bills. However, each bill can embrace only one subject; thus, hundreds of bills must be passed to fund other State agencies.
  • Section 39 places restrictions on funding. Except for "educational purposes, highway purposes, to pay Confederate pensions and the just debts of the State", no appropriations exceeding $2.5 million can be passed without a three-fourths majority. In recent years, this means that nearly every appropriation bill (including the general bill) requires such.
  • Section 40 further requires that the general appropriations bill must be passed before any special appropriations bill can be passed. Otherwise, no appropriations are valid.

The most recent example of how the restrictions can wreak havoc was in 1989.[citation needed] The general appropriations bill (which exceeded $2.5 million) failed to gain the required three-fourths majority, but was declared passed by the General Assembly under the "just debts of the State" exemption, and all subsequent special appropriations bills were passed thereafter. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court disagreed with the Assembly's use of the just debts provision. As a result, it declared every single appropriations bill of the session unconstitutional—the general bill did not receive the votes needed to pass under Section 39, and under Section 40 all other appropriations bills were invalid since the general bill must be passed first—requiring the Assembly to return in special session to reenact them.

Ironically, though, appropriations are not really the state budget in Arkansas; that is enacted near the end of the session, when the Revenue Stabilization Law, which provides the mechanism for distributing the state's revenue (even general revenues), is amended to reflect the actual budget. Any appropriation not funded by the Revenue Stabilization Law is essentially null and void. In hindsight, some observers believe that the Revenue Stabilization Act, while strict in its implementation, has prevented the state from experiencing financial difficulties seen in other states with less-strict deficit spending preventive measures.


Article 19 Section 1, titled "Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness", states: "No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court."

However, there are no known cases of this article being enforced in modern times. It is commonly held that Article Six of the United States Constitution bans such qualifications when it states, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Current precedent holds that this is binding on the states as well under the liberty clause of the 14th Amendment to the federal constitution. Additionally, the First Amendment to the federal constitution establishes freedom of religion as a constitutional right. While the wording of this amendment specifically bars Congress from restricting freedom of religion, current precedent holds that this amendment and the rest of the United States Bill of Rights are binding on the states by the liberty clause of the 14th Amendment. As a result, it is understood that this section would almost certainly be thrown out if challenged in court.

Usury law

Section 13 originally set the state's usury limit at 10%; it was amended in the early 1980s to 5% above the Federal Reserve Discount Rate on 90-day commercial paper[4] (see the latest rates), but falling interest rates and poorly worded provisions made the amended version even more onerous than the original. For example, a clause in the 1980s amendment appears to set a 17% limit for consumer loans; but since they weren't exempted from the main "5% above discount rate" provision, the courts ruled that the limit for consumer loans was the lesser of the two clauses, usually the 5% rule. Also, other language in the amendment applying the usury limit "at the time of the contract" made floating-rate loans extremely difficult, even though the usury limit itself was a floating rate. Even worse, neither the original nor amended provisions allowed the legislature to make any exceptions to the general usury law, as happened in other states. The Arkansas legislature tried to permit payday loans anyway, but after two adverse decisions in 2008 the Attorney General ordered all payday lenders in the state to shut down.[5]

Eventually, after out-of-state banks took over most lending in Arkansas thanks to the Marquette decision and the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994,[6] Arkansas banks received special relief from the usury law through Section 731 of the Federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999. Also in that year, an Arkansas Supreme Court decision allowed out-of-state auto finance companies to engage in subprime lending through Arkansas dealerships without violating the usury law.[7] Today, only a handful of loans made to Arkansans are still subject to this law, mainly private-party lending and some prime auto loans from companies like GMAC and Ford Credit.

Holford Bonds Not to Be Paid

This unique and unusual article (added by Amendment 1) prohibits the General Assembly from making appropriations for payment of principal and interest on several bond issues from 1869 to 1871, commonly referenced as Holford bonds, which were passed during Reconstruction by a Union-dominated General Assembly, some of which refinanced disputed debt from shortly after Arkansas' statehood in 1836. These bonds had been central to the Brooks-Baxter War.


In addition to the 20 Articles listed above, several amendments (90 as of January 01, 2013[dated info]) have been added. Though some amendments have been physically incorporated into the text of the Constitution (e.g. Amendment 1, adding Article 20 and Amendment 90, incorporated changes made to Amendment 82), others remain physically separate from the text.

Notable amendments shown separately include:

  • Amendment 34, which provides for the right to work (only Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have similar constitutional provisions).
  • Amendment 46, which allows for horse racing pari-mutuel betting, but only in Hot Springs, the location of Oaklawn Park. (Interestingly, there is no similar constitutional amendment relating to dog racing, though Southland Greyhound Park operates in West Memphis.[citation needed])
  • Amendment 68, which states that "[t]he policy of Arkansas is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth, to the extent permitted by the Federal Constitution." This provision would allow Arkansas to restrict the practice of abortion in the event Roe v. Wade is ever overturned by the United States Supreme Court.
  • Amendment 73, which places term limits on Arkansas officeholders. Section 3 also placed limits on Arkansas's Congressional delegation, but it was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton. Section 4 placed a severability clause so the remainder of the amendment would remain in force.
  • Amendment 83 Denies recognition to all forms of same-sex unions.
  • Amendment 84 Authorizes bingo and raffles for charitable purposes. Passed in 2006
  • Amendment 86 Authorizes the General Assembly to meet in general sessions in odd-numbered years and fiscal sessions during even-numbered years
  • Amendment 87 Authorizes a state wide lottery. Passed in 2008
  • Amendment 88 Guarantees the right of Arkansans to hunt, fish and trap. Passed in 2010

Amending the Constitution

The current Constitution allows for two methods of amendment. However, each method is shown in a separate section.

Legislative amendment

Under Section 22 of Article 19, either house of the General Assembly may propose amendments. The amendment requires majority approval of both houses in a recorded vote, publication in at least one newspaper in each county for six months prior to the next election of the Assembly, and majority approval of the voters.

However, the Section places further restrictions on legislative amendments, requiring each amendment to appear separately on the ballot and limiting the number per ballot to three.

Amendment by initiative

Under Section 1 of Article 5 (as amended by Amendment 7), ten percent of legal voters may propose an amendment by initiative, requiring majority approval of the voters. The proposed amendment must be filed with the Arkansas Secretary of State not less than four months before the election, and 30 days prior to the election the petitioners (at their own expense) must publish the amendment "in some paper of general circulation". Unlike legislative amendments, there are no limits on the number of amendments by initiative that may be proposed on any one ballot.

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