Texas, like most other states, has functioned under a series of Constitutions, each of which has contributed to the state's constitutional legacy. Each is appropriately understood from the perspective of the period in which it was adopted. The current Constitution was written in 1876 after the termination of Reconstruction policies. Because reconstruction policies were oppressive, the Constitution was designed to put strong restraints on government to guard against future abuses of power. Today, the document is so restrictive that many believe it is counterproductive. However, a rewrite of the Constitution has been elusive, due to special interests and others who believe that they benefit from the current system.
The 1876 Constitution was predicated on the theory that governmental excesses could be minimized by carefully defining what governments could and could not do. The document was built upon the national constitutional tradition and embodies three dominant principles: popular sovereignty, limited government, and separation of powers.
The post-Reconstruction Texan preference for an independent judiciary is reflected in an elected judicial branch.
The framers of the Texas Constitution failed to anticipate that the limitations they imposed on governmental institutions would ultimately allow major economic interests within the state to dominate the policy-making process, often to the detriment of the lower socioeconomic groups. What the delegates to the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1875 regarded as the strengths of the constitution--fragmented authority, detailed limitations on the power of governmental institutions, and decentralization--have served to limit the ability of state and local governments to adapt effectively to economic and demographic changes. The perceived solutions to many of the problems of 1875 have compounded the problems of state and local governments in the 2000s.
Efforts to overhaul the Texas Constitution have failed. Consequently, the state has been forced to amend the document continually on a...