baby boy, gavel and words It's a win

Tennessee Asserts Sovereignty on Amendment 1

As you probably know, the chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee and some of its supporters filed a federal lawsuit this past summer to enjoin passage of Amendment 1, which voters adopted in November of last year. Planned Parenthood’s supporters argued the state Election Commission did not count the votes the way the state Constitution requires. However, in recent months the state took the fight to them and won a great victory in Court last week.

In September, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Mark Goins, Coordinator of State Elections, filed suit in the Chancery Court of Williamson County asking the state courts to declare whether the state had counted the votes correctly under the state Constitution.

I have written on this subject before, stating that the question of how the state Constitution is to be interpreted is a matter for the state courts to decide, not a federal court. But arrogant federal District Court Judge Kevin Sharp decided he would decide for Tennessee how its Constitution should be interpreted

Thankfully, the state essentially said, “Enough of that, Judge Sharp. We gave you a chance to do the right thing by declining to interpret our state Constitution, and you choose wrong. Now we’ll see the Planned Parenthood folks over in state court.”

This suit was a great exercise in giving recognition to the dual sovereignty that exists under our federal government.

States are still sovereign governments under the U.S. Constitution, and their courts have every bit as much constitutional authority to interpret the state and federal constitution, as do the federal courts. Of course, when the state Supreme Court disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court, you have a problem, but not until then.

Tennessee’s Not Alone in Asserting Its Sovereignty

This legal point regarding state sovereignty was ably and rightly demonstrated last March when a single federal district judge ruled that all of Alabama’s probate judges had to start issuing same-sex “marriage” licenses. The Alabama Supreme Court stepped in and ordered all the probate judges who were not actually parties to that particular federal court lawsuit to continue following Alabama’s marriage law.

Liberals decried the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision, but that’s all they could do, cry. The Court was correct, and eventually the same-sex “marriage” advocates realized all they could do was wait to see what the U.S. Supreme Court would say in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.

Just Say No to Federal Government Overreach

So back to the Amendment 1 lawsuit in state court. The abortion advocates moved the state court to dismiss the state’s lawsuit and, essentially asking the state court to defer to the federal court, to let the federal court handle the decision. To the credit of Judge Binkley, he said, “No thank you. The state is equipped to handle these kinds of cases, so we’ll just all proceed full speed ahead.”

That decision was as it should be. We can thank our Secretary of State, Election Coordinator, and Attorney General for asserting our state’s rights on this issue of state law. It was a creative way to tell the pro-abortion crowd that Tennessee is not going to let them use the federal government to dictate to us if we can find another way.

Now let’s hope our Attorney General will put on that same creative thinking cap to find a way to say to the federal government we’re not going to let you shove us around when it comes to refugee resettlement and to marriage, two issues that are looming as the legislature prepares to return for session in January.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event