OUR OPINION: Allain reshaped state constitutional powers

The death this week of former Gov. Bill Allain does not end the influence of his constitutional and legislative achievements, which include a landmark state Supreme Court edict forcing the Mississippi Legislature to obey the state constitution’s separation of powers doctrine, correctly shifting more power to the executive branch and the office of the governor.

Allain, who was elected attorney general in 1979, filed the lawsuit in December 1981, and in late November 1983, after he had been elected governor to succeed William Winter, the high court agreed with Allain, holding 9-0 that the 1890 Mississippi Constitution meant what its framers had written:

• “Section 1: The powers of the government of the state of Mississippi shall be divided into three distinct departments, and each of them confided to a separate magistracy, to-wit: those which are legislative to one, those which are judicial to another, and those which are executive to another.

• “Section 2: No person or collection of persons, being one or belonging to one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly belonging to either of the others. The acceptance of an office in either of said departments shall, of itself, and at once, vacate any and all offices held by the person so accepting in either of the other departments.”

When Allain filed the lawsuit – in response to a lawsuit filed by legislators seeking to prevent his action – 36 legislators served on executive branch boards. Their reach clearly violated separation of powers, which had been conveniently, openly ignored for the 94 years the 1890 constitution had been in force.

In the 1983 campaign, Allain withstood discredited allegations driven by several Republicans of consorting with transvestite prostitutes in Jackson. He won a landslide victory in November 1983, defeating Leon Bramlett, the Republican nominee.

Allain increased the number of women and minorities serving in state government, and he appointed Reuben Anderson to the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1985, the first black member of the court.

In 1986, Allain helped lead the effort for a constitutional amendment allowing gubernatorial succession, but he did not seek a second term.

His constitutional precision led to a major shift toward a more powerful executive, paving the way for GOP Gov. Haley Barbour to further broaden executive reach with his political skills from 2004 to 2012.

Allain’s exceptional intellectual credentials and convictions reshaped Mississippi politics, and he crafted a positive, enduring legacy.