Tennesseans could see their rights eroded

On Tuesday, November 4, 2014, Tennesseans will be asked to vote on measures to alter the state constitution that could change the way judges are selected and significantly reduce the rights of women and the privacy protections of all Tennesseans.

One fact that all Tennesseans need to be aware of is that the percentage of votes required to pass a constitutional amendment is NOT based on total votes cast, but on votes cast for governor. If you skip the governor’s vote, you lower the threshold required to pass an amendment—so vote for governor, whether you love the candidate or not—and make it harder, two times over, for your opponents to pass their amendments.

Amendment 2 addresses judicial appointments at the state level. This is sure to be a hot-button issue after Lt. Governor Ramsey’s heavy-handed attempt to undermine the courts in the summer elections. According to Ballotpedia, Amendment 2 “would empower the governor to appoint judges to the Supreme Court or any other state appellate courts subject to confirmation by the general assembly. The appointed judge would serve an eight-year term. Thereafter, the judge could serve another term via a retention election by voters.” This would formalize the current status quo, in part, but would dismantling the Judicial Nominating Commission and empower the legislature to confirm appointments.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, a Republican, co-wrote an editorial supporting the measure, arguing that the measure secures a more impartial court. But John Jay Hooker argues that the Tennessee constitution demands that “qualified voters” elect judges, and he feels that it is perfectly clear this means a popular vote. Bret Brandenburg of Justice at Stake argues that the Judicial Nominating Commission puts judges forward based on merits, while the new situation would allow purely political appointments and would subject court appointments to the kind of gridlock we see in Washington. In the end, the individual voter must decide whether the situation that currently exists or the solution as described in Amendment 2 better provides for judicial independence.

Amendment 1 is far more controversial. It reads: “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

Vote No on One Tennessee’s website accurately points out that the main aim of the law is to establish that “There is absolutely no right to abortion, and politicians can pass laws for exceptions in case of rape or incest, or when a woman’s life is in danger, if they choose to.” And further, they may choose not to do so.

But the measure is actually far more pernicious, threatening the rights of all citizens, not of women only. As David Harper of Tennessee’s state Democratic Party points out, “The bill is written very deceptively. And the bill effectively turns over all rights to the state legislature. If you look at that bill and look at what it says, it says exactly that.” This may seem a stretch, but as Rev. Harry Knox, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (photo above), explained to O&AN, the danger is real.

The key is that abortion rights as secured by the Roe v. Wade decision hinge on the concept of a right to privacy, which is not explicit in the Constitution of the United States. In fact, in the whole country, Tennessee is unique in that it enshrines a protected right to privacy in its Constitution! But abortion isn’t explicitly mentioned, so they’re going after abortion directly.

Given the link between privacy and abortion, however, an attack on abortion severely limits the interpretation of privacy in Tennessee. “It’s really quite hypocritical,” Knox said. “The clever wording makes it sound as if this amendment is concerned with protecting the rights of Tennessean. But by attacking abortion, they’re attacking a far more broad right. In the end this will erode the rights of all Tennesseans, especially the LGBT community.”

The LGBT community must utilize its vote now: we must make a stand for the rights of women and, in the process, for the right to privacy of all Tennesseans. We must all vote NO on Amendment 1. For more information about the fight against Amendment 1, visit http://voteno1tn.org.





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