Tag Archives: constitution

TN Constitution among those banning atheists from holding office (it also bans ministers)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Some freedom-from-religion advocates are pressing Maryland and six other states to remove provisions from their state constitutions that prohibit people who don’t believe in God from holding public office.

The other states are Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, according to the Openly Secular coalition, based in Columbus, Ohio. The New York Times reported on the group’s campaign Dec. 6.

Such bans are unenforceable, according to a 1961 Supreme Court decision. The high court ruled unanimously in a Maryland case that states cannot have a “religious test” for public office.

The state provisions should therefore be removed, said Todd Stiefel, chairman of the Openly Secular coalition, based in Columbus, Ohio.

“If it was on the books that Jews couldn’t hold public office, or that African-Americans or women couldn’t vote, that would be a no-brainer. You’d have politicians falling all over themselves to try to get it repealed,” he told the Times.

Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the ban is among a number of what he called “obsolete provisions that are littering the constitution.” He said those items could best be addressed by a constitutional convention. Marylanders get to vote every 20 years on whether to hold a constitutional convention. The next referendum is set for 2030.

Raskin, who is also a professor of constitutional law at American University, said the provisions are rarely invoked. “It’s unconstitutional, so it’s unenforceable,” he said.

State Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, the Senate’s minority whip, said he believes in pluralism but isn’t convinced any action is needed.

“I think what they want is an affirmation that the people of the state of Maryland don’t care about the Christian faith, and that is a little offensive,” Shank told the Times.

Note: Tennessee’s Constitution also bans ministers from serving in the Legislature, though that provision has also been ruled in violation of the U.S. Constitution (The U.S. Supreme Court case, decided in 1978, is known as McDaniel vs. Paty.)

Both provisions are in Article IX, Sections 1 and 2. Here’s the text of both:

Section 1. Whereas ministers of the Gospel are by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature.

Section 2. No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.

It has been observed that the two sections would seem to be in conflict with Article I, Section 4, which reads:

That no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this state, shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state.

Constitution Party of TN names candidates; hears speech against Constitutional Convention

The Constitution Party of Tennessee met Saturday at Union University in Jackson to nominate candidates for the November general election and hear a speech from Richard Fly, a constitutional and civil litigation attorney who opposes an ongoing movement to amend the U.S. Constitution (already approved by the Tennessee Legislature).

From the Jackson Sun report:

Article V of the Constitution provides for state legislatures to apply for a convention to propose constitutional amendments. Thirty-four states must pass an application for such a convention.

If it occurred, 38 states would have to ratify any proposed amendment.

But Fry, also co-founder of Defend Not Amend and general counsel for the Patriot Coalition, said the goals and history of the movement are sinister.

“Why should we believe that amending the Constitution will make public servants uphold it?” Fry asked his audience.

Today, several organizations are urging for an Article V convention to stop government overreach and require a balanced budget.

Advocates want to propose amendments that would “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and force Congress to be fiscally responsible,” according to the Convention of States’ website.

(Note: The Tennessee Legislature earlier this year approved HJR548, as posted HERE, and a separate “faithful delegate” bill (SB1432) that is intended to assure that delegates to the constitutional convention must follow directions of the General Assembly. At the time, Tennessee was the 22nd state to adopt the convention call.)

…Rather than holding a primary, candidates are voted for by general members, said Jerry Pangle, 7th Congressional District director for the party.

Only those nominated Saturday may run on a Constitution Party platform.

Nominated candidates are Joe Wilmoth for U.S. Senate, Mark Rawles for U.S. House, Shaun Crowell for governor, Tim York for Tennessee Senate, Mike Warner for Tennessee House, Steve Hilton for Gibson County executive, Brad Nelson for Madison County commissioner, Brian Renfroe for Madison County commissioner and Jacob Seth York for Madison County commissioner.

Note: The candidates for state office had duly filed qualifying petitions prior to the April deadline, according to the state Division of Elections website. Wilmoth, of Baxter, is listed there as an ‘independent’ candidate for the U.S. Senate. Rawles, of Jackson; Crowell, of Spring Hill; York, of Jackson (running in state Senate District 27, now held by retiring Democratic Sen. Lowe Finney); and Warner, of Clarksville (running in House District 67, now held by Democratic Rep. Joe Pitts) are listed a Constitution party candidates.

The website listing also has an asterisk by the Constitution party label, referring readers to this note:
*Currently, there is litigation pending as to whether the Constitution and/or Green party will be listed on the November ballot. If listed, the Constitution and Green Parties will be nominating by convention/caucus method. Therefore, pending the nomination process, this candidate may or may not represent the respective minor party in November.

TN History Might Repeat Itself (sorta) in Judicial Elections

Thirty-five years ago, Tennessee voters went to the polls and approved 12 of 13 amendments to the state constitution that had been proposed by the Constitutional Convention of 1977.
Next year, Tennessee voters will go to the polls and, probably, approve two amendments to the state constitution presented them by the state Legislature.
Much more uncertain is whether the Legislature in 2013 will decide to present voters with an amendment revisiting the subject of the amendment rejected in March 1978 and, if so, what the voters will do about it. In the past and in the future, the subject was a restructuring of the way we select Tennessee’s top judges.
Interestingly, the two amendments that will be subject to statewide referendum in 2014 both relate to court decisions. So did some of the items approved 35 years ago. It seems a majority of we Tennesseans can agree about what to do in reaction to judges; not on what to do about selecting the judges themselves. Or at least the judges who Tennessee voters can directly impact.

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Original Handwritten Versions of TN Constitutions Come Out of Vault, Go on Display

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Tennessee State Library and Archives staff will carefully move all three versions of the original handwritten Tennessee state Constitutions to the Supreme Court building Tuesday, December 4 in preparation for a five-day public display.
The meticulously preserved documents will be removed from a vault at the State Library and Archives building and carried by hand starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday in their archival boxes next door to the Supreme Court building. A Tennessee Highway Patrol detail will provide security as the state’s most significant documents travel for their first-ever public display as a group.
The largest document – the State Constitution written in 1834 – measures approximately 2′ x 3′.
This is the first time the three documents – handwritten in 1796, 1834 and 1870 – will be on display together for the public to view. The event is part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the Supreme Court Building, which was dedicated in 1937. The celebration also includes the opening of the Tennessee Judiciary Museum within the Supreme Court Building with a public ceremony at 10 a.m. Wednesday, December 5.
Following the period of public exhibition, the original Constitutions will be returned to a vault at the State Library and Archives and digital duplicates will be on display at the Judiciary Museum.
The museum will be open to the public with the original constitutions on display on the following dates and times:
•Thursday, December 6th from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
•Friday, December 7th from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
•Saturday, December 8th from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. to especially allow school children who can’t come during the week to view the constitutions
· Monday, December 10th from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Starting Tuesday, December 11, the museum will be open weekdays from 9 a.m. – Noon. There is no admission charge. The Supreme Court building is at 401 Seventh Ave, Nashville, 37219, at the corner of Charlotte Avenue.

Original Handwritten Versions of TN Constitutions on Display

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
NASHVILLE, TN – To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the building that houses the Tennessee Supreme Court, original handwritten versions of the three state constitutions will be on display for the public for the first time.
The display is part of a week-long celebration of the building and includes the opening of the Tennessee Judiciary Museum in a portion of the courthouse’s library at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, December 5th. Also, as part of the celebration, there will be a Judicial Family Reunion of all employees who’ve worked in the building that afternoon. The museum will be open to the public with the original constitutions on display December 6-8 and Monday, December 10th.
“The museum provides a great opportunity for the people of Tennessee to actually see the original founding documents of our state which established our three branches of government and our fundamental constitutional rights,” Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade said. “The museum also will tell the story of the Tennessee courts from the perspective of the judges, the lawyers and the litigants. I believe that it will be a treasure for the people of Tennessee for generations to come.”

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Memphis Lawsuit Challenging Photo ID Law Filed in State Court

The City of Memphis has filed a lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court challenging Tennessee’s photo identification requirement for voting, reports the Commercial Appeal.
The suit asks the court to declare unconstitutional the state’s Voter Photo ID Act for “imposing an undue burden on registered Tennessee voters’ right to vote, in violation of Article I, Section 5 and an additional qualification on such right in violation of Article IV, Section 1 of the Tennessee Constitution.”
Article I, Section 5 establishes that “elections shall be free and equal, and the right of suffrage as hereinafter declared, shall never be denied to any person entitled thereto, except upon conviction by a jury of some infamous crime …”
Article IV, Section 1, lists the qualifications for voting as being at least 18 years old, a citizen of the United States, a resident of Tennessee “for a period of time” set by the Legislature and being duly registered in the county of residence for a period of time prior to the day of election as set by the Legislature.
It further says, “All such requirements shall be equal and uniform across the state and there shall be no other qualification attached to the right of suffrage. The General Assembly shall have the power to enact laws requiring voters to vote in the election precincts in which they may reside, and laws to secure the freedom of elections and the purity of the ballot box.”
The city and two Memphis registered voters, Daphne Turner-Golden and Sullistine Bell, originally filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Nashville in July,asking that new photo cards issued by the Memphis Public Library be declared acceptable for voting purposes by qualified and registered voters. The judge denied that request, saying that the Legislature specifically excluded photo IDs issued by local governments, and the city filed an amended complaint to strike down the statute as unconstitutional under both the federal and state constitutions.
But last week, before the federal lawsuit proceeded to trial, the city voluntarily dismissed that suit and served notice that it would re-file in state court. The suit names as defendants Secretary of State Tre Hargett, state Atty. Gen. Robert Cooper Jr. and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins.
The lawsuit notes that the state law also explicitly excludes student IDs issued by Tennessee colleges and universities, even though nearly identical IDs issued to state college and university employees are acceptable forms of photo ID for voting.

Minor Party Candidates Have Shoestring Budget, Internet Efforts in Common

Hank Hayes reports on a trio of minor party candidates from Northeast Tennessee:
History suggests Kermit Steck, Bob Smith and Suzanne “Flower” Parker have no chance of being elected to public office, but the three Northeast Tennesseans have won the right to put their names before the electorate.
They all insist third political parties are viable alternatives to the Democratic and Republican parties.
On Aug. 9, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Tennessee’s ballot access law for newly qualified political parties and ordered the state to put Steck, Smith and Parker on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election.
They are among about a dozen candidates listed statewide as “minor party candidates” for the general election ballot.
Steck, 56, is the Constitution Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican incumbent Bob Corker. Smith, 70, is the Green Party’s candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat held by Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Phil Roe. And Parker, 40, is the Green Party’s candidate in Tennessee’s up-for-grabs 3rd House District.

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State Constitution Provisions Focus of Shelby Schools Trial

Attorneys for both the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission contend in legal briefs filed last week, that the 2011 law clearing the way for new special school districts in Shelby County violates the state constitution.
The trial starts this week and the Commercial Appeal has a setup story outlining the constitutional arguments.
(A previous ruling by Judge Hardy Mays) dismissed challenges by the council and commission that Norris and Todd’s Public Chapter 1 was illegal because it was special legislation applying only to Shelby County. But Mays specifically asserted he was dealing only with the law’s first two clauses in making that determination; those related specifically to the timing and process of transferring administration and operations of a special school district like MCS to the county.
Mays declined to consider challenges to the third clause in Public Chapter 1 — (b)(3) — because he said they were not yet “ripe.” The clause says “after the effective date of the transfer of administration” that “the restrictions imposed on the creation of municipal school districts and special school districts shall no longer apply in such county.”
Mays wrote in an order in July that (b)(3) was now, indeed, ripe.
Laws passed by the state in 1982 and 1998 created a ban on the creation of any new special or municipal districts in any of the state’s 95 counties. The commission and council are now asserting the (b)(3) clause is invalid because it seeks to “contravene” or “repeal” that more general ban only in very specific cases in a certain few counties.
They also intend to prove the 2011 and 2012 laws represent “special” legislation in violation of Article 11, Section 8 of the state constitution because it grants special privileges to the eight Tennessee counties where special school districts exist but not to the other 87.
“The Challenged Acts suspend the general law of Tennessee for a select few,” write the commission attorneys from the firm of Baker Donelson.
They also claim a violation of Article 11, Section 9 in the acts because they did not require countywide local approval despite being “local in effect” to only Shelby County.

Unprecedented Opportunity for Green, Constitution Parties?

While Republican Bob Corker remains virtually assured of re-election to the U.S. Senate, an unprecedented race for runner-up status has developed with ramifications on Tennessee political contests in 2014, and perhaps later.
And it could lead to headaches in this November’s vote-counting as well.
For the first time in many decades, there will be four candidates for the U.S. Senate on the state’s November ballot who are identified by party affiliation. A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision this week means that the Green Party nominee Martin Pleasant of Knoxville and Constitution Party nominee Kermit Steck of Kingsport will join Republican Corker.
Mark Clayton, a flooring installer living in the Nashville area, will apparently be the Democratic nominee — though state Democratic officials are still in something a dither about that since disavowing Clayton’s candidacy for what party Chairman Chip Forrester calls “extremist, tea party right-wing positions.”
Still hanging is a complaint from Larry Crim, fourth-place finisher in the Democratic Senate primary, asking the party to throw out Clayton’s nomination.

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Court Orders Green, Constitution Party Candidates on TN Ballot

A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Thursday assures that Green Party candidates will have a place on Tennessee’s November general election ballot in several races – including Martin Pleasant of Knoxville as the party’s U.S. Senate nominee.
“That’s wonderful,” said Pleasant, 43, who said he now plans to take some time off his job with the Knox County Engineering and Public Works Department for campaigning.
State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said the court ruling came in requests for an expedited ruling on two issues in a lawsuit brought by the Green and Constitution parties challenging the state’s ballot access.
Currently, Democrats and Republicans are listed by party affiliation but others are listed as independents unless they go through various steps that a U.S. District Court judge in Nashville ruled in February are too burdensome. The state attorney general’s office appealed that ruling.
In Thursday’s decision, the court declared Green and Constitution party candidates must be on the ballot and listed by party name, Goins said. But the court ruled for the state in another issue up for “expedited” decision – letting stand a present law requiring the “majority party,” now Republicans, be listed first on the ballot, followed by the “minority party,” the Democrats, with others following lower on the ballot.

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