NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled in favor of members of the Occupy Nashville movement who claimed their free speech rights were violated when they were arrested while protesting in 2011 on War Memorial Plaza.
U.S. District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote in an order issued on Wednesday that the seven plaintiffs’ rights to engage in constitutionally protected free speech activity was violated when they were arrested based on a hastily written rule that banned camping on the plaza.
The plaintiffs sued Gov. Bill Haslam, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Commissioner of General Services Steven Cates. Trauger’s order denied some of the plaintiffs’ claims but also said that they had prevailed in proving that the state officials could be held liable on claims of violations of free speech rights, violation of due process and unlawful arrest.
Following the national Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters began a 24-hour-a-day presence on the plaza outside of the state Capitol in early October 2011. But the state started getting complaints about trash and public urination and other problems. The state then issued a new policy banning overnight camping on the state property.
In the early morning of Oct. 28, 2011, several protesters were arrested, but a local judicial commissioner refused to sign the arrest warrants because there had not been enough notice of the policy change. The following night, more protesters were arrested, but they were released with misdemeanor citations.
Trauger wrote in her order that even though the state had concerns about public safety on the plaza, officials still had to follow the law to address those concerns.
“Instead, without providing adequate notice to the public at large, they informally attempted to change the law overnight, made no record of the proceedings, and failed to consult with the Attorney General, who otherwise must pass on the constitutional validity of any rule (whether adopted through traditional or emergency procedures) before it becomes law,” Trauger wrote.
David Briley, an attorney representing the Occupy Nashville group, called the ruling a resounding victory for the principles of free speech and protest.
By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When the legislature failed to extend the life of the Judicial Nominating Commission, it effectively ended merit-based selection of judges in Tennessee. It also left open the question of whether there is any mechanism to replace a Tennessee judge who steps down, retires or dies.
Voters will decide in November of 2014 whether they want to amend the state constitution to change the way judges are chosen in Tennessee. The amendment would give the governor the right to appoint appellate court judges, including those who sit on the Tennessee Supreme Court, followed by confirmation of the legislature.
Some lawyers warn the legislature has left Tennessee without a way to pick judges before voters go to the polls next year because the commission that is set to expire June 31 currently helps the governor select judges.
The commission was extremely unpopular among some lawmakers who believe judges ought to be elected or just didn’t like the idea of commissioners having a say in who gets to be a judge.
The House gave final approval Monday to a proposed amendment to the Tennessee constitution that would prohibit a state income tax if approved by voters in a statewide referendum next year.
The House vote was 88-8 after brief debate with two Democrats, Reps. Mike Stewart of Nashville and Larry Miller of Memphis, speaking against the amendment and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada defending it. The measure (SJR1) was approved 27-4 by the Senate on Feb. 14.
Stewart recalled that former Republican Gov. Don Sunquist had championed a state income tax in 2002 because he “felt that our business and sales tax had essentially reached a peak.” While unpopular now, he said the idea remains “within the solar system of policies” that could be considered in the future as well.
“I think by eliminating this level of flexibility we going down the wrong road… (toward) inflexibility in our tax system,” said Stewart.
Miller said the state constitution is “a sacred document” that “you don’t play politics with.” If voters approve the ban on an income tax, he said, ” It could take another 50 years before we realize the mistake we made.”
“The income tax – that’s the mistake,” replied Casada, contending that a state income tax is a “terrible policy” that deserves special treatment via a constitutional prohibition.
Voters will now have at least three constitutional amendments to consider on the November, 2014, ballot. Legislators have previously approved a proposed amendment setting up a new system for appointing the state’s top judges and another pushed by anti-abortion activists.
The Senate approved Thursday a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow veterans organizations to stage gambling events to raise money for themselves or other charitable causes.
The proposal by Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was approved by the Senate 24-6, meeting the two-thirds support level required for final passage of a proposed constitutional amendment. If the House also approves the measure, it will go on the 2014 general election ballot for final approval by voters.
When the state constitution was amended in 2002 to allow lotteries, a provision was included to allow some charitable groups to hold gaming events for fundraising, if each event is approved by the Legislature. Crowe said veterans groups should have the same rights of fundraising as other organizations now covered.
A news release on the proposed amendment is below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Members of a new coalition say they plan to assist with a statewide campaign to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion scheduled to be on the ballot next year.
That amendment would allow the state to enact laws requiring a 48-hour waiting period for abortions and requiring all but first-term abortions to be performed in hospitals.
Members of Healthy and Free Tennessee spoke to reporters at a news conference on Monday. They didn’t specify their strategy in the campaign.
However, they did say regardless of what happens with the amendment, the coalition plans to “promote sexual health and reproductive freedom” throughout the state.
Earlier this month, Republican sponsors of a measure that would have required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and show or describe it to a woman seeking an abortion decided to withdraw the legislation and support the constitutional amendment.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Senate on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to give lawmakers the power to refuse the governor’s appointments to appeals courts in Tennessee.
The chamber voted 29-2 in favor of the resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. If the measure passes the House by a two-thirds margin, it will go on the ballot in next year’s general election.
The proposal would maintain the current system for holding yes-no retention elections for appointed Supreme Court justices and appeals judges. It would do away with an independent nomination commission that narrows down the list of candidates for the governor to choose from. That system would be replaced by a confirmation process in the General Assembly.
Supporters say the constitutional amendment would continue to prevent high-dollar judicial elections in Tennessee, while opponents argue that it conflicts with the state constitution’s provision that Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to amend the state constitution to allow the governor to appoint appellate judges is headed for a vote on the Senate floor.
The measure sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, passed the committee 8-1 on Tuesday and is being scheduled for a full Senate vote. (Note: The no came from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.)
John Jay Hooker, a two-time Democratic Party nominee for governor and vocal opponent of the measure, spoke before the vote and told members of the committee that “people want the right to elect these judges.”
Also Tuesday, members of the committee unanimously approved a measure that would prohibit courts from subpoenaing the names of anonymous commenters on news websites.
The measure, also sponsored by Kelsey, is headed for a full Senate vote.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Senate Finance Committee has advanced a proposed constitutional amendment to explicitly ban a state income tax to a full floor vote.
The panel voted 9-1 on Tuesday to advance the measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown that would also ban a state or local payroll tax.
The measure would need to receive two-thirds votes in both chambers of the General Assembly before it could go before the voters in 2014.
Opponents argue the measure is unnecessary amid solid opposition to an income tax among Republican lawmakers who already hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate.
The lone vote against the measure came from Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, an income tax opponent who said the measure would tie lawmakers hands in tough economic times.
Joint news release from House and Senate Republican Caucuses:
(NASHVILLE) – In a joint session of the Tennessee Senate and the Tennessee House of Representatives today members unanimously re-elected Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. and Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. Secretary Hargett will serve his second four-year term, while Treasurer Lillard and Comptroller Wilson will each serve two-year terms. All three were originally elected to their posts by the General Assembly in January, 2009. Treasurer Lillard and Comptroller Wilson were re-elected to their second two-year terms in January, 2011.
Senate and House leaders congratulated the Constitutional Officers today, and released the following statements:
“While many Tennesseans don’t know what they do, the constitutional officers are really the unsung heroes of state government. They work – often behind the scenes but sometimes in the harsh glare of the media spotlight – to make sure that our state’s investments are managed properly, that public employees have a financially sound retirement system, that taxpayer money isn’t wasted, stolen or misused at the local or state levels of government, that local governments get the assistance they need to be successful in various levels of their operations, that our elections run smoothly, that our public libraries have the support they need to provide excellent service to Tennesseans. Tennesseans are lucky to have leaders like Comptroller Wilson, Treasurer Lillard and Secretary of State Hargett overseeing these essential services of state government.” -Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey
“Tennessee is in excellent financial condition – and the work of our three constitutional officers has played no small part in that. As members of the State Funding Board, they set revenue estimates that are used by the governor, his staff and members of the General Assembly for budget planning purposes. They also appear regularly before the major rating agencies that determine how strong Tennessee’s credit ratings will be. They also provide helpful advice and information to help members of the General Assembly do their jobs better.” -House Speaker Beth Harwell
“I am very proud of the work Treasurer Lillard, Comptroller Wilson and Secretary of State Hargett have done over the last four years. They have made many major improvements to make Tennessee state government work more efficiently and effectively which benefits all Tennesseans. All three of these public servants are well deserving of another term in office.” -Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris
“Reforming government is something that’s easy to talk about, but difficult to do. These three constitutional officers have spent the last four years challenging traditional thinking about the way their offices should operate and, as a result, their offices are operating more efficiently and effectively than ever before. They have made the offices more accessible by making more services available over the Internet and have found ways to maximize the productivity of their employees.” -House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick.
The number of abortions performed in Tennessee declined even as the state remained a destination for out-of-state women traveling here to end their pregnancies, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported by The Tennessean. Tennessee mirrored the nation in the declining abortion trend. Nationally, abortion rates that had remained steady for several years dropped 5 percent to an all-time low in 2009, according to the data released last week.
In Tennessee, the number of abortions fell 4 percent from 2008 to 2009 — from 18,253 to 17,474 — after several years in which they climbed slightly.
But Tennessee remained a standout as a destination for abortions, with 23 percent of all abortions performed here in 2009 sought by women who lived elsewhere. Only three other states and the District of Columbia saw a larger share.
…In 2014, driven by a decade of activism by pro-life advocates, Tennessee voters will decide whether to amend the constitution to strip away the abortion protections that have made Tennessee a standout state for abortion rights in an increasingly abortion-hostile South.
Changes are already under way that could affect Tennessee’s future as an abortion-friendly state.
In August, the Volunteer Women’s Medical Center in Knoxville closed after 38 years, citing a new state law that requires doctors to hold admitting privileges at local hospitals.
Statewide pro-choice advocates have begun to organize for the ballot fight ahead. A loose coalition of abortion clinic operators, women’s rights activists and others held an organizing meeting in October.
State pro-life advocates have focused their energies on supporting pro-life candidates in the recent election, but have said in the past that the 2014 ballot fight is their No. 1 priority.