Revelations from Reading through the Code of Alabama, 1975, Partially out of Boredom

I have this know-it-all tendency that causes me, usually out of boredom but sometimes out of curiosity, to browse government documents, law books, court decisions, local histories, old newspapers, census data, and other generally obscure texts just to see what’s in them. Sometimes I don’t understand them at all, I usually have to look up a handful of unfamiliar terms, and I almost always marvel at the confusing and cumbersome diction, especially in legal writing.

This time, I was compelled for some unbeknownst reason to start reading the online version of Alabama’s code of law, about which I offer these notes on the revelations found within.

from Title 1: General Provisions

1. In Section 1-1-1, the very first point clarified is this: “(1) PERSON. The word ‘person’ includes a corporation as well as a natural person.” I find it interesting that a status enjoyed by corporations is first thing that gets clarified in Alabama state law.

2. Section 1-1-3 defines what a blind person is, and even goes so far as explaining: “a natural person who has no vision or whose vision with correcting glasses is so defective as to prevent the performance of ordinary activities for which eyesight is essential,” etc, etc. This was the third thing clarified. I wonder if that’s because so many people were saying things like, “Even a blind man could see that this won’t work!”

3. In Section 1-2-8, we find that the tarpon is the official salt-water fish of the state. I’ve never heard of a tarpon.

4. In Section 1-2-19, the pecan is established as a the state nut. I, on the other hand, have differing ideas about the state nut.

5. Likewise, in Section 1-2-35, we see that the blackberry is the state fruit. Again, I have other ideas about the most appropriate use of this distinction of state fruit.

6. Section 1-2A-2 explains that Alabama “did not have a flag from 1819 to January 11, 1861, when a resolution was passed designating a flag designed by a group of Montgomery women as the ‘Republic of Alabama Flag.’ One side of this flag displayed, under an arch bearing the words ‘Independent Now and Forever,’ the Goddess of Liberty holding in her right hand an unsheathed sword and in her left hand a small flag with one star. Displayed on the reverse side of this flag were a large cotton plant in full fruit and flower, a coiled rattlesnake, and the Latin words “Noli Me Tangere” (Touch Me Not) beneath the cotton plant.” From 1865 until 1895, Alabama again had no flag.

7. Section 1-3-4 declares that the state’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. This is very helpful to schools, whose year typically runs from August to May.

8. Section 1-3-8, which lists our state holidays, includes three based on Confederate history (Robert E. Lee’s birthday, Jefferson Davis’ birthday, Confederate Memorial Day) but only one based on Civil Rights history (Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday).

9. The language in some subsections is very confusing. Even a post-modern, post-structuralist, non-binary gender critic might struggle for a minute with this one:

Words used in this Code in the past or present tense include the future, as well as the past and present. Words used in the masculine gender include the feminine and neuter. The singular includes the plural, and the plural the singular. All words giving a joint authority to three or more persons or officers give such authority to a majority of such persons or officers, unless it is otherwise declared.

from Title 2: Agriculture

1. Like in Section 1, Section 2-1-1 has an even broader definition of “person,” which can be “An individual, a partnership, a corporation or two or more individuals having a joint or common interest.” Here’s what I don’t get: how could state law ever have defined marriage as involving one man and one woman when legally a “person” could be “two or more individuals”? 

2. Section 2-1-7 makes it clear that, if you buy beef with state money, it has to be raised and processed in the US. Yet, that rule does not apply to canned meat. No quarrel is raised over where beef jerky must come from.

3. Section 2-2-90, in Article 5, establishes a Center for Alternative Fuels within the Department of Agriculture & industries that should be for “promoting the development and encouraging the use of alternative fuels as a clean, abundant, reliable, and affordable source of energy.” I had no idea that we have such a thing.

4. Section 2-5-11, which is about Farmer’s Markets, deals with “Ejection of Persons from Markets.” The only information there is a one-liner about a 2013 repeal. Which makes me wonder: what do you have to do to get thrown out of a farmer’s market?

5. Farming has lots of rules— about everything.

6. Section 2-32-1 deals with the promoting the ratite industry. I’d never heard of such, so I looked it up, and a ratite is a flightless bird like an emu or ostrich. Section 2-32-12 says that fees from ratite food will be used for”advertising, education, research, production, and sales of ratites and the consumption and use of ratite products.” So, it’s not like we’re diverting social-studies textbook funds to make TV ads for emu meat.

from Title 3: Animals

1. This was getting tedious, but I decided to go through one more section

2. Unlike Titles 1 and 2, which right off the bat addressed the definition of a “person,” Title 3 has its own unique punchy intro: “No person shall keep any dog which has been known to kill or worry sheep or other stock without being set upon the same.” No mean dogs is rule #1.

3. Just so you know: Section 3-1-15 states that you may not sell, trade for, or even give away baby rabbits, baby chicks, or baby ducklings. Don’t do it.

4. You may also not burn or cauterize the teeth of a horse or mule to make it appear younger. That’s in Section 3-1-26 in case you were considering it and need more details.

5. I learned the legal term estray in Chapter 2 of Title 3. It means stray but adds an ‘e’.

6. There are also lots of rules about where livestock can graze and what will happen to people who let their livestock graze where they shouldn’t.

7. Just read the wording in 3-6-1. It’s incredible. I didn’t even know that “therefrom” was a word. Somehow, the people who wrote this in 1953 used 101 words to say this: if you’re dog bites or hurts someone who you allowed onto your property, you’re liable to pay for the damage. I did it in 20 words. Boom!

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