MONTGOMERY — In November, Alabama voters will get to decide whether the Alabama Constitution should contain an explicit ban on the use of foreign law in state courts.
Opponents of the measure, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 1, say it's a symbolic move and a waste of time. Proponents say they're trying to protect the constitution from possible future threats.
"When we engross this in the state constitution, it's ensuring that we've taken the necessary steps to protect our rights," said Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, the sponsor of the amendment.
Allen's amendment, passed by the legislature in 2013, states that "different law from the state of Alabama is foreign law," and prohibits "application of foreign law in violation of rights guaranteed natural citizens.”
The amendment also states that Alabama wouldn't have to extend "full faith and credit" to other U.S. states when doing so would conflict with Alabama policy. The "full faith and credit" clause in the U.S. Constitution requires states to recognize judicial proceedings and public acts of other states.
Both issues — foreign law and the full-faith clause — have been flashpoints in political culture wars in recent years.
In 2011, Allen proposed a ban on the use of Islamic law, known as Sharia, in Alabama courts. Similar laws were popular in other conservative states at the time, though Allen in 2011 couldn't name instances in which Sharia was used in Alabama courts.
"It's a joke. It's just another one of these red herrings they keep throwing out there." -- Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham
Since 2011, bans on foreign law have been proposed in several states where anti-Sharia bills failed or were struck down in court. Allen said his foreign-law amendment would block the use of Sharia in Alabama courts, though he said the bill wasn't intended solely for that.
"It's not an attempt to demonize any one religion," Allen said. "It's an attempt to make sure the laws on which this country was founded are forever embedded in the state constitution."
In an email, Allen wrote that the amendment would block the use of international law in capital punishment cases. Past court cases have cited practices in other countries in the debate over whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.
The "full faith and credit clause" of the U.S. Constitution, meanwhile, has often been cited in the public debate over same-sex marriage. Under the clause, supporters argue, same-sex marriage solemnized in other states should still be binding in states such as Alabama, where gay marriage is banned.
Allen wrote the amendment isn't a reaction to gay marriage. He did write, however, that his amendment would affect custody rights in same-sex divorce cases.
"There have been issues in dealing with custody rights in same sex relationships being enforced in states like Alabama," he wrote.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, was one of a handful of lawmakers who voted against Allen's amendment in the House. Todd has sued the state for recognition of her own same-sex marriage, but she said that wasn't her primary reason for opposing the amendment.
"It's a joke," she said. "It's just another one of these red herrings they keep throwing out there."
Todd said the amendment would not hold up in court. Lawmakers, she said, should be writing bills to to address problems such as poverty.
"If you look at the things that are problems in the state of Alabama, this isn't even in the top 50," she said of the foreign law issue.