Louisiana achieved statehood on April 30, 1812, though in many ways it never let go of its French and Spanish colonial ties. Nowhere is that truer than in the Bayou State’s legal traditions. As Stanley Kowalski famously informed his wife Stella in Tennessee Williams’ 1948 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire, “In the state of Louisiana we have the Napoleonic Code . . . .”
It was true then, and it remains true as of this writing, more than seven decades later. But what does having the Napoleonic Code mean, legally? For starters, it doesn’t have much to do with Louisiana’s record of constitutional law, with the exception of what remains of Napoleon’s ideas on forced heirship. More than anything, it means Louisiana clings to its longstanding “civil law” tradition, which places paramount importance on legislatively written or “codified” law, rather than judicially-created case law and precedent. While civil law systems are the norm in most nations of the world (including France and Spain), England and the United States have common law systems — except Louisiana.
Perhaps that insistence on writing everything down and placing it into the supreme law of the land explains why Louisiana has had 11 constitutions — so far — and so much difficulty drafting and adopting new state charters. It certainly explains why the Constitution of 1921, the predecessor of the document that inspired this book, was so unwieldy. By the time delegates and voters replaced it, Louisiana’s 1921 Constitution was by far America’s longest, most internally inconsistent, and most oft-amended state charter.
But, by God, everything that lawmakers and voters wanted enshrined in a constitution, and then some, was there. Which brings us to the matter of this book’s publisher.
“CC73” — in some records it appears as “CC-73,” “CC/73,” or “CC 73” — started as a verbal shorthand for Louisiana’s 1973-1974 Constitutional Convention. Delegates to the Convention actually adopted Rule No. 89 recognizing “C. C./73” as the preferred variation but over time many fell back to using the simplified “CC73.” During the Convention, the abbreviated label was even incorporated into a blue and red logo. Used on stationery, posters, stickers, and, in at least one case, cuff links, the insignia quickly became a dated design from the age of disco, although a few decades later it would be considered trendy and retro.
As fashion cycled back around, so did CC73. Forty-four years after the Convention recessed, surviving delegates looked back at their handiwork and decided their namesake could be much more. Today, CC73 is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created in 2017 to publish this written account of that incomparable gathering. The authors hope this new insight into the intent of delegates and the Convention’s operational framework will serve as a lasting guide for attorneys, academics, the media, and policymakers. At a time when another constitutional convention has become a perennial policy issue in the Louisiana Legislature, this book will also provide an opportunity for discussion, reflection, and engagement.
All proceeds from this book, after expenses, in concert with donations to CC73, will be used to underwrite a university-level program to foster a better understanding of state constitutional issues. CC73 also is dedicated to furthering a civic appreciation for the 1974 Constitution and to educating the general public about the Convention’s legacy.
Serving as the spark for this ambitious endeavor was a manuscript authored by former Louisiana House Speaker and Convention Chairman E. L. “Bubba” Henry, who continues to aid CC73’s mission as secretary. Fellow delegates Donald T. “Boysie” Bollinger and Patrick A. Juneau serve as the president and treasurer, respectively, of the CC73 Board of Directors.
Turning now to the title of this book, it turns out that CC73 (the Convention) in fact produced one of America’s last state constitutions drafted by elected delegates. While Louisiana citizens may eventually decide to replace the 1974 Constitution, the collision of culture and politics that led to the document’s making may never happen again. The story of CC73, its delegates, and the 1974 Constitution emerged during a transitional time in the Louisiana’s political history. The early 1970s saw tectonic shifts in the Bayou State’s political landscape. The new governor, Edwin W. Edwards, redefined Louisiana populism in the modern age of mass media, while state lawmakers began to declare their independence by restricting lobbyists ’floor access and fortifying their voting procedures.
On the campaign trail, a new breed of public official emerged as candidates debated ethics requirements and fundraising reform. While many in the elected class still practiced the “go-along-to-get-along” ethos cultivated by their predecessors, a younger generation of politicos in the state House of Representatives — dubbed “Young Turks”— chased a wind of independent promise. A select few of them caught that breeze and rode it as delegates to the 1973-1974 Constitutional Convention.
When they and other promise-fueled delegates gathered in Baton Rouge in January 1973, some of the state’s most storied and infamous political dynasties were fading. The machine that transformed Governor Huey P. Long into the “Kingfish” had all but vanished. The muscle that installed Governor John J. McKeithen as “Big John” — previously a legislative floor leader for Governor Earl K. Long — weakened under the strain of time. The delta fiefdom of Leander H. Perez Sr. (aka “The Judge,” a lieutenant of Huey Long) likewise showed signs of wear.
In a political Big Bang, the death rattle of Longism collided with the formation of the “Young Turks,” Edwards’ transformational election, and the start of Henry’s speakership. That collision birthed America’s most recent constitutional convention.
On a larger stage, the Vietnam War raged on, pointed questions about President Richard Nixon surfaced, and the voting public grew distrustful of government. The change agents who served as CC73 delegates, like the voters who elected them, were both inspired by Louisiana’s winds of change and disheartened by America’s national dramas. They aspired to write not just a new constitution, but also a new kind of constitution, one that would not bear the fingerprints of governors with nicknames like the Kingfish, Big John, or the Judge.
The extent of their collective success — and failure — remains a topic of debate more than four decades later. Yet, even as voters ratified the new Constitution in 1974, the document’s authors remained hopeful that some future gathering of delegates elected to draft Louisiana’s next constitution would not have to pay so dearly for the sins of their political forbearers.