In the early 20th century many states, starting with California, passed laws known as “alien land laws” intended primarily to target Japanese and other Asian immigrants and force them out of competition for agricultural holdings.
The harsh laws gave legislators at the time the authority to prevent aliens ineligible for citizenship from purchasing, owning or inheriting agricultural land, according to the Densho Blog, and Florida enacted an alien land law of its own in 1926.
“Most of the discriminatory laws … have been repealed, but did you know that there is still one state that has an alien land law on its books?” the blog asks.
“That state is Florida.”
So history will be made if Amendment 11 receives 60 percent approval on Nov. 6. Removing the alien land law language from the Florida Constitution is one of three items bundled together for voter consideration by the Constitution Revision Commission.
Another ancient addition to the Florida Constitution will be yanked if voters approve Amendment 11 and the repeal of the so-called “Savings Clause.”
The Savings Clause, vintage 1885, forbade making changes to a criminal sentence retroactive. That meant a person facing prosecution for a crime at the time the sentence for that crime changed would still face the previously existing sentence.
The amendment would also delete language that was added in 2000 when state voters decided by a narrow margin to mandate construction of some sort of high speed rail system. The language was never removed in 2004 when the 2000 amendment was overturned.
Amendment 11 is one of three overturned at the Circuit Court level following a challenge by former Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead and Robert Barnas. The men contended that bundling amendment questions – combining two or more issues in a single proposal -- would violate voters’ First Amendment rights.
Amendments 11, 7 and 9 are being reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court, which has indicated it will rule “expeditiously.”
But because the first of this year’s ballots had to have been mailed to members of the military by Tuesday, Aug. 2, Amendment 11 and other bundled amendments will appear on Florida ballots whether they are ultimately thrown out by the Supreme Court or not, said Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux.
Don Brown, a former Florida State Representative and member of an organization called Save My Constitution, said the reason his group opposes Amendment 11 is similar to that of Anstead and Barnas.
"It’s been called issue gerrymandering,” Brown said. “I may be in favor of the first issue and the third issue but not the second issue, but I have no choice in the vote. If forces voters to vote on a mixed bag.”