Fifty Years Later: An Archival Look at the 1971 Virginia Constitution

Introduction

Law Special Collections recently installed Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971 in the lobby of the Law Library. In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1971 Virginia Constitution, the exhibitprovides a retrospective look at Virginia’s Commission on Constitutional Revision through the work of UVA Law professor and constitutional law expert A. E. Dick Howard (’61). Howard served as executive director of the Commission, an appointment he received from Commission chair and former Virginia governor Albertis Harrison Jr. in February 1968. The materials in the exhibit are curated from Howard’s personal papers, which he donated to Law Special Collections in 1981.  

Forming the Commission

In 1968, Law Professor A. E. Dick Howard (’61) began work as executive director of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Revision, charged with overhauling Virginia’s supreme legal document. In the wake of massive resistance to school integration, Howard and the Commission set out to revise the 1902 Virginia Constitution, which disenfranchised many Black Virginians and explicitly outlawed racial integration in state schools.  

Howard undertook the formidable task of administering the work of the Commission, which consisted of ten members and a chair. The commissioners were highly visible legal and political figures, chosen for their stature in the Commonwealth. They included, among others, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell Jr., civil rights attorney Oliver Hill, former UVA president and Virginia governor Colgate Darden, and Law School Dean Hardy Dillard (’27). 

Pictured are several members of the Commission in Williamsburg, 1969: (left to right) Davis Paschall, Ted Dalton, Alexander Harman Jr., Colgate Darden Jr., Lewis Powell Jr., Albert Bryan Jr., Oliver Hill, and Hardy Dillard.

The Revision Process

Following a lengthy study of recent constitutional revisions in other states, Howard proposed a plan of operation and a timetable for the work of the Commission. He divided the Commission into five subcommittees, each of which was headed by a counsel and series of advisors. Counsels were chosen from faculty at Virginia’s four law schools—including UVA Law Professor Peter Low—and from prominent attorneys in private practice, like Jack Spain JrThe Commission tasked the five subcommittees with recommending revisions to assigned focus areas: Bill of Rights, Franchise, Apportionment, and Education; Taxation and Finance; Legislature and Judiciary; Executive and Corporations; and Local Government.  

Here at the Law School, the Virginia Law Weekly covered the stages of the constitutional revision process, with particular emphasis on the involvement of UVA Law professors and students. During the summer of 1968, the Commission hired eighteen law students as research associates to assist the five subcommittees. Twelve of the eighteen associates were from UVA Law. Frances Farmer, UVA Law Librarian and first female Law faculty member, was appointed as Librarian to the Commission at Howard’s request.

Commission meetings took place at various locations across the state, including Charlottesville. Commission members and counsels are pictured here on the steps of Clark Hall, home of the UVA Law School at the time. The eighteen-person group of Commissioners and counsels included eight UVA Law alums.

The Commission submitted its final report to Governor Mills Godwin and the General Assembly in January 1969. Howard acted as special counsel to the Special Session of the General Assembly charged with amending the constitution in light of the Commission’s proposals. Virginia law required that amendments to the existing constitution be ratified by two sessions of the General Assembly and then submitted to the people in the form of referenda. As special counsel, Howard interpreted the Commission proposals to the Assembly, attended committee meetings, met individually with Assembly members, provided constitutional advice, and finally re-wrote each proposed revision in terms acceptable to both houses of the General Assembly.  

Building Support for Ratification

Former governor and Commission chair Albertis Harrison Jr. presents the final report to Governor Mills Godwin Jr., January 1969.

After Howard and the Committee submitted their revisions to the General Assembly in 1969, Howard set off on a tour around Virginia to encourage public support for the new constitution.  

Four proposals related to amending Virginia’s Constitution were put on the ballot for Virginians to vote upon in November 1970: passage of the main body of the constitution, the potential legalization of lotteries by the Assembly, and two matters pertaining to bond financing. Howard’s speaking engagements created a space for citizens to ask questions and express concerns about the four proposals. 

Howard is pictured here at an open forum in Richmond, Virginia in 1970.

Voters passed the revised constitution with a 72% majority. The other provisions passed by 63% or higher. The new constitution, ratified July 1, 1971, remains in force today and includes a non-discrimination clause as well as guaranteed state and local funding for public education, among other provisions.  

Professor Howard Revisits His Collection

Howard views items on display from his collection.

On September 20, 2021, Professor Howard—who still teaches constitutional law—stopped by the library to view materials from his collections. Howard assisted in the curatorial process, loaning two items including a testimonial given to him by Governor Ralph Northam on the fiftieth anniversary of ratification (on display) as well as a certificate from members of the Commission (featured here). We asked Professor Howard why he donated the materials to the UVA Law Library. He said he felt strongly that the records should be preserved. Howard also noted that much of the work of constitutional revision was completed here since the Law School’s faculty, students, and librarians were involved in the process from the beginning. Most important, Howard was confident library staff would take great care of the materials: “I had so much respect for the work of this law library that I knew my colleagues here would do a first-class job of collecting and curating and making the collection available.” 

We invite patrons to explore Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971, which will remain on display through December 2021.  

On January 11, 1969, during the final meeting of the Commission, the commissioners presented Howard with this certificate in recognition of his outstanding leadership and many contributions. Each commissioner signed the certificate, which now hangs in Howard’s office.

This post is indebted to the work of former archivist Marsha Trimble, who processed Howard’s papers in 1981 and wrote the original description, portions of which are featured here and in the exhibit.

Featured image: Dick Howard and Meggan Cashwell discuss the exhibit “Revising the Virginia Constitution, 1968-1971.” 20 September 2021.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator with the UVA Law Library. She assists with Special Collections' many projects and with Circulation.

Meggan Cashwell

Meggan Cashwell is a postdoctoral research associate in legal history for UVA Law Special Collections. She is spearheading the library’s forthcoming edited history of legal education at the Law School (UVA Press).

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UVA Legal Experts Offer Their Picks for Summer Fiction Reading

For many of us, summertime means reading. A lifelong bibliophile, Thomas Jefferson considered fiction to be useful reading for anyone who wanted to understand the law. University of Virginia Law School faculty and staff agree. Here are some of their picks for fiction that helps explain the law.

Daniel Ortiz

Michael J. and Jane R. Horvitz Distinguished Professor of Law
Director, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (1596-98)

“In addition to being fantastic literature and containing one of the greatest trial scenes of all time, [The Merchant of Venice] pits justice against mercy and leads the reader to question those who advocate either position to the exclusion of the other. In the end, both sides’ absolutes appear cruel.”  

G. Edward White

David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law

John Galsworthy, In Chancery (1920)

In Chancery “deals with the difficulties of getting divorced in England in the early years of the twentieth century, where virtually the only two ways to obtain a divorce were through cruelty or adultery, and both had to be publicly proven in court. Two of the characters in In Chancery, Soames Forsyte and his sister, Winifred Dartie, who is married to Montague Dartie, would both like to be rid of their spouses, Soames because he wants to remarry and Winifred because her husband has run off to South America with his mistress. Soames’s wife is only too happy to divorce him, but neither he nor she wants to admit in public to having an affair, which would amount to social ostracization for members of their upper-middle class. Winifred is capable of bringing an action against Dartie but wants to avoid public scandal.

“The novel demonstrates the grip of the law on persons in England in its time period. ‘In Chancery’ refers to the fact that divorce proceedings took place in chancery court, whose procedures enforced the adultery and cruelty preconditions for a divorce decree. It also signals that any persons seeking to divorce in England at that time were ‘in the grip’ of those procedures.”

Leslie Kendrick

Vice Dean
Albert Clark Tate, Jr., Professor of Law

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852-1853)

The renowned English author’s ninth novel, Bleak House satirizes the English legal system through its exploration of families and wills in Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Bleak House is a thrilling read that touches on how the law can be–or at least feel–for those who experience it as parties. That is only one minor reason that it is a great book.”

Rip Verkerke

T. Munford Boyd Professor of Law
Director, Program for Employment and Labor Law Studies

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (1946)

“The book loosely follows the sordid career of Huey Long. It’s both a gripping narrative and a cautionary tale about corrupt influences in political life. When I recall re-reading the book about five years ago, I can still see, hear, and smell a number of vivid and memorable scenes. Highly recommended.”

Paul Halliday

Julian Bishko Professor of History, University of Virginia
Professor of Law

Jane Austen, Persuasion (1817)

“I don’t think one could do better than look at almost any of Jane Austen’s six novels. I suppose Persuasion is my favorite. The social confines in which the heroine, Anne Elliot, operates were constructed by the ways her family, and most landed families of the Regency period, used the law of property. Contrary to what many think, the property interests of Anne Elliot (or Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood) were not undermined by common law. By common law rules, Austen’s protagonists would have inherited their father’s property, though where there were multiple daughters, they would have split the inheritance with their sisters. Instead, it was the use of entails that meant that their father’s property would pass to a distant male relative. Thus the equitable practice of entails was used to defeat a common law practice: the common law rule that land descends to a daughter in the absence of a son and in preference to collateral males. What daughters lost was less a matter of law than of the cultural norms that shaped people’s choices about the use of law.

“As with everything else, Austen handles law more subtly than other authors. Law is not idiotic (think Fielding), nor is it obscure and self-serving (think Dickens). Austen doesn’t bore us with legal details, nor does she dish out easy criticisms of law and lawyers. Instead, law forms a quiet yet critical a backdrop in her novels. Austen knew that her contemporary readers would appreciate how law could function as a synecdoche for what really mattered: the patriarchal norms about women and families that were her real concern.”

Jessica Lowe

Associate Professor of Law

C.J. Sansom’s “Matthew Shardlake Series”: Dissolution (2003); Dark Fire (2004); Sovereign (2006); Revelation (2008); Heartstone (2010); Lamentation (2014)

Sansom’s mystery series feature Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in King Henry VII’s court. “Sansom is a lawyer as well as a historian, so his books do a great job of portraying the legal practice of the time, while also exploring the moral ambiguities of the Reformation.”

Gordon Hylton

Professor of Law, General Faculty

Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman (2015)

Harper Lee’s second novel was published in 2015, just before her 2016 death. “It is much more subtle and nuanced than To Kill a Mockingbird, and it better illustrates the nature of the power and influence that lawyers traditionally exercised within their communities.”

Kate Boudouris

Law Library Special Collections Metadata Research Team Lead and lawyer

Donald Barthelme, Concerning the Bodyguard (1978)

Concerning the Bodyguard is a short story told almost entirely through questions. For members of a profession that often relies on questions–from discovery to cross-examination–it’s a fascinating meditation on the uses of questions and the challenge of telling a story within formal constraints that preclude a more straightforward narrative. You can hear Salman Rushdie read the story on this New Yorker Fiction Podcast.” The story can also be found in Barthelme’s collection of short stories, Forty Stories.

Kim Forde-Mazrui

Mortimer M. Caplin Professor of Law 
Director, Center for the Study of Race and Law

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

“I’d probably recommend a book that many others have recommended: To Kill a Mockingbird. For me, it reveals that the law is only as good as society is. In the book, a fair trial was conducted but the jury verdict was unjust and based on racism.”

Cale Jaffe

Assistant Professor of Law, General Faculty
Director of the Environment and Regulatory Law Clinic

E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web (1952)

“I re-read Charlotte’s Web with my kids a few years ago, and was blown away by how poetic it is…For aspiring lawyers, it carries two powerful lessons. The first comes from Fern, the young girl who initially saves Wilbur from her father’s axe. Her father announces the ruling that awards Fern custody over Wilbur, reasoning, ‘Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice.’ Every client deserves to have an advocate as zealous as Fern.

“The second comes from Charlotte, who reminds us that great writing (legal or otherwise), often requires the most efficient use of language. ‘Terrific. Radiant. Humble. Some Pig.’ Not a 70-page brief with voluminous footnotes. Just five simple words. That’s all it took for Charlotte and Wilbur. I think most attorneys would benefit from adopting a similarly economical–and thoughtful–approach.”

 

Written by

Melissa Gismondi

Melissa leads interpretation for the first phase of the 1828 Catalogue Project. She holds a PhD in early American history from the University of Virginia and is currently working on a book about the political partnership of Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel. Follow her on Twitter @melissajgismond.

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