William Allain was born on 14 February 1928 in the Adams County community of Washington. He was educated at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Mississippi, where he earned a law degree in 1950. Allain served in the US infantry for three years during the Korean War, spending significant time in combat. He practiced law in Natchez from his discharge in 1953 until 1962, when he was appointed assistant state attorney general.
In 1983, while serving as Mississippi’s attorney general, Allain filed a suit asking the state supreme court to separate the functions of the executive and legislative branches of state government, especially in the budgetary process. Members of the legislature commonly served on boards, commissions, and agencies in the executive branch, but Allain asserted that Mississippi’s 1890 constitution required a separation of powers and that legislative officials could not serve in the executive branch. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in favor of the attorney general and ordered the two branches to remain separate. That ruling strengthened the executive branch of state government, especially the office of governor, which is considered one of the weakest chief executives in the nation. The court’s mandate was carried out in the Administrative Reorganization Act of 1984.
From 1962 to 1975 Allain represented the State of Mississippi in cases before state courts, the federal district court, the federal circuit court of appeals, and the US Supreme Court. In 1979 he was elected state attorney general, a post in which he built a strong reputation as a consumer advocate. Two of his most notable achievements were the prevention of a utility rate increase and the exclusion of Mississippi as a nuclear waste site. In his successful 1983 campaign for governor, Allain, a Democrat, carried seventy-four of the state’s eighty-two counties.
Shortly after his inauguration as governor on 10 January 1984, Allain appointed a 250-member commission to study the state’s 1890 constitution. After a thorough review, the commission drafted a new constitution, and Allain recommended its adoption. The state legislature, however, took no action on the proposal.
A constitutional amendment restructuring the state board of education, part of the Education Reform Act of 1982, was implemented during Governor Allain’s administration. That amendment provided for an appointed superintendent of education and a nine-member board of education.
As governor, Allain continued to work to remove members of the legislature from boards that were part of the executive branch. Though unpopular with many legislators, who feared that the law gave too much power to the governor, Allain’s proposal was passed by the legislature in 1984.
In 1985 Allain appointed Reuben Anderson to the Mississippi Supreme Court, making him the state’s first African American justice.
A constitutional amendment allowing the governor to succeed himself was passed near the end of Allain’s term, with his strong endorsement. Allain considered running for reelection but eventually decided not to seek a second term.
After leaving office in January 1988, Allain resumed the practice of law in Jackson. He died there on 2 December 2013.
- William Allain Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1984–88)
- Jere Nash and Andy Taggart, Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976–2006 (2006)